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"Until Justice Rolls Down Like Waters"

Martin Luther King day, remembered by SAIC Students.

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Art that commemorates the life and work of Dr. King, and explores the struggle for social justice today

Until Justice Rolls Down Like Waters, a show hosted by Hostelling International Chicago that features murals thematically based on the efforts of Martin Luther King Jr., opened the evening of January 19, 2009. The murals were painted by ten SAIC students: Britni Marii Ashe; Emily Cross; Jiwan Jung; Minjung Kim; Vanessa Miethe Hoff; Des’Tina Paige; Ryan Pfeffier; Young-Mee Roh; Jae Eun Song; and Annie Sutula.

Arielle Semmel, the education program counselor for Hostelling International Chicago, said that her belief is that Hostelling International is driven by many of the same principals that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. advocated. The goal of Hostelling International, she says, is to bring people of multiple ethnicities, religions, languages and cultures together to promote tolerance and a peaceful co-existence among citizens of the global community. “By sharing these murals with the community that stays here at the hostel, and with the community in Chicago,” she said,”[we are] hoping to spark that dialogue, and get people talking about what it is that we are working on.”

Each artist faced the task of segmenting his or her image into three sections, and then painting their mural directly onto three vertically aligned windowpanes. While the dimensions of each mural were identical, the imagery and aesthetic of every mural was unique to the sensibility of the artist who produced it.

For some, concept directly informed the imagery. Artist Des’Tina Paige said she, “wanted to create a timeline. I wanted to express not just what Martin Luther King did, but what others have done, before him and up until now.” In the top panel of her mural, we see a cloud with the “Until justice…” phrase written into it. In the middle panel, raindrops are seen falling from the cloud onto an image of Dr. King, who is painted in the bottom panel. Within each rain cloud is information written about a significant historical event pertaining to the civil rights movement. “It’s kind of like justice is still rolling down on him, and he can see that in Heaven.”

For some of the artists, considerations of the medium played a more influential role in the development of the imagery. Artist Emily Cross said that the project,” was hard because I didn’t know how to [work with] the medium on the glass, so that kind of dictated some things for me,” and that she had to “work with the layering of it all.” Vanessa Miethe Hoff said that one of the most rewarding parts of the process was the “physical process of painting on a window. I don’t usually paint on windows.”

Artist Annie Sutula referenced photographs for her mural. In the bottom panel, images are depicted from the infamous Little Rock Nine Crisis, when a group of nine African American students had to fight to gain entrance to what was, prior to the Brown VS. Board of Education ruling, an exclusively white school in Arkansas. In the middle panel, proponents of desegregation are seen marching in the streets “to signify the work that was going on.” Sutula went on to say, “The top [panel] depicts a student today reaching above all of this and writing the phrase ‘the fierce urgency of now’ on a blackboard. This is to recognize that even though we’ve come a long way in terms of education, we still have a long ways to go.”

Every artist seemed to extract something valuable from the experience. Artist Britni Marii Ashe said that the process of executing a mural of her own was incredibly rewarding, and she plans on doing more murals in the future. She said, “Public art is important to me. I’m learning more about it and getting more into it just in the city of Chicago…Here, it’s great exposure, it’s a great way to get out a message, and to work with people too…that’s also fun.”

Artist Jae Eun Song, a graduate student who is originally from New Zealand, is very excited about having participated in the mural project, and to be in Chicago to bear witness to the radical social changes that are occurring. She said that said that she “learned about Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement back in high school…I didn’t know that there was a day to commemorate his work,” and she felt that, as a painter, it was “very meaningful” for her to participate in the event.

As Arielle said, “tomorrow our country is going to inaugurate the first president who happens to be African-American, and you hear on the news all the time, the question [now] is is the race question in America fixed? And obviously, it isn’t. We have a lot of work to do, and that’s the work that Dr. King called us to do. That’s the work that our artists have been helping us do.”

The show is on display until March 31, 2009, at Hostelling International Chicago (24 East Congress Parkway). For more information, contact Arielle Semmel at [email protected].

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