Chicago Public School Students Hold Downtown Exhibition
Chicago’s quadrennial mayoral election will be held the last week of February. If it seems to you that Rahm Emanuel was just elected, you would be right. Emanuel has served just one term, but he has been featured so much in the news, it feels like he’s been around much longer. It’s strange to think that Chicago’s leader could change in the not-too-distant future. Anticipation for this election seems quieter than the November elections for Illinois governor, even in local media. A number of School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) students have said they consider Chicago politics a somewhat taboo subject, a conversational hot potato for all seasons. Surely, some of this aversion can be attributed to the historically controversial nature of our local government, but there also seems more to it than that.
A factor more specific to the collegiate environment is that many SAIC students do not call Chicago home and don’t plan to stay in Chicago after graduation. Still, SAIC has engaged Chicago politically and socially with efforts that include courses on gentrification and the urban environment, Contemporary Practices department instructors who educate students on the ins and outs of the city, and studio classes that bring students outside the Loop, not to mention the the school’s Department of Multicultural Affairs’ serious efforts to reach out to communities on Chicago’s south side through SAIC-sponsored arts programming. Most recently, the Student Union Galleries at SAIC turned over their Neiman Center Gallery on campus to Chicago Public School (CPS) high school students. They mounted an exhibition that included media of all kinds, both in the gallery and overflowing into the rest of the first floor.
There was something refreshing about the work, perhaps due in part to its origination from Chicago natives. Illustrations and paintings abounded, with a number of comics and sequential art works. Drawings by Wayne Tate of Lincoln Park High School constructed a bilingual narrative in Spanish and English, with words and images that told Penelope’s Story: Birth and Adultery. Tate’s attention to detail in line and color was acute, and his dual use of language brought about racial tensions that are very much present in Chicago.
Other types of works included in the show were documentation of a performance, 3D works, and wearable sculpture. One work on paper was a collage of Emojis. A large color photograph by Aidan Piper of Lane Tech High School, Mulligan, is a portrait of Chicago fire fighters before the ice-covered, partially burned Mulligan School, after after it caught fire this past November. The dramatic image resonates strongly, with critical looks at recent CPS closings and significant shifts in education at the national level (i.e., Common Core State Standards), allocation of public resources, etc. The light from the day’s sun shows beautifully on the ice formations from the firefighters’ work.
The exhibition is full of budding, talented makers. It is an opportunity for high school students to both show their work and get exposure on a heavily trafficked street corner and and for SAIC students, staff and faculty to see their future colleagues and students, whether they become SAIC students or practicing artists elsewhere.