Marguerite Horberg, proprietor of HotHouse, still supports Fidel Castro, and peppers her conversation with Marxist phrases: friendships are “alliances,” issues like homelessness are “contradictions,” progressive art should “demystify” the “homogenous hegemony” of Western cultural imperialism.” Yet she comes on like Rosa Luxemburg with a gypsy soul.

For more than ten years before she opened HotHouse, she ran the Salon of Modalisque, a boutique that specialized in eccentric multicolored fashions, some by Chicago designers, some created from vintage items Horberg found at garage sales and flea markets. A few years ago she did some door-to-door canvassing for Slim Coleman’s grass-roots organization Fair Share. They said, ‘Marguerite, you can’t wear that Mexican wedding dress!'” In 1989 she went to Cuba with the Venceremos Brigade, a U.S.-Cuba friendship organization. “We brought a belly dancer with us. The belly dancer is this 57-year-old woman from Milwaukee. And all the feminists on the trip were appalled. They said, ‘How can you bring this symbol of overt sexism down to the revolution?’ The Cuban people loved it! This is joyous, this is beautiful, this is art, this is fun to look at, this is sexy!”

Horberg, who’s dressed in rainbow colors, is sitting in her cluttered office holding a stack of press releases that start with the first act she booked two and a half years ago. In 1991 HotHouse hosted the much praised “Women in Jazz” festival. She also presents special events, many with political overtones, such as last December’s forum on “Fear of a Black Queer Planet.” “Are there a lot of places that court this kind of stuff?” she asks. “Is there a lot of attention paid to it? This still is very rare. You still do not see Ghanian culture, poetry from Trinidad, dance movements from Colombia–that is still very much not mainstream culture.”

Horberg has never been content to nestle in mainstream culture. After spending a few semesters as a political-history major at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, she took off around the world for two years. “I spent a lot of time in Asia–India, Nepal, Iran, Afghanistan–came back, and realized that there was a similarity in all the places that I went to: everyone likes to fuck and smile and sleep and work and raise their children the best that they can, and that’s universal.

“I came back with some things I had bought in Hong Kong–embroidered lingerie–and sold them to a vintage-clothing store. And then I opened a vintage-clothing store called Studio V on Lincoln Avenue. When I got out of that store I started another one, the Salon of Modalisque on Adams. We would have fashion shows and special events–all sorts of stuff went on. That reinforced this whole collaboration where you have fashion and music and sculpture, paintings, films, lecture series. It was very important to me to make these connections.”

About two and a half years ago she moved Modalisque to 1569 N. Milwaukee. The storefront office next door soon became HotHouse, and Horberg began to fulfill her vision of fusing the artistic and the political under one roof. Modalisque has since closed, but HotHouse remains one of Chicago’s most diverse cultural showcases.

It’s also finally beginning to pay for itself. Though some of her events have been supported by grants, Horberg wants to extricate her club from “the great white way–writing grants, seeking permission to be subversive.”

She’s careful, however, not to let economic necessity compromise her artistic or political principles. She’s currently investigating ways to “do more survival programs–GED classes, literacy classes, nutrition classes. We’re interested in bolstering and supporting people who have a progressive point of view, whether it’s music or artwork or nonverbal communication–challenging an overarching concept of culture. It’s a progressive cultural agenda.”

Still, she says, “I don’t think you can force things down people’s throats. I believe life, as much as you can make it, is a celebration. That’s the only kind of thing that gets you out of this eternal drudgery. I identify a lot with Anna Karenina and all these great tragic women that always walked around looking great. One of the great things about being a woman is that you have the luxury to bedeck and bejewel and strut your stuff. It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing, y’know?”

Sunday, February 21, at HotHouse, 1565 N. Milwaukee, the South African duet Ndikho Xaba, a member of the ANC, and his wife Nomusa will present their internationally acclaimed show of pan-African music, story telling, and dance, which combines politics and one of the world’s richest folk traditions. The show starts at 7:30 PM; a $5 donation is requested. Call 235-2334 for more information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jon Randolph.