By: Jazmyne Walker
WCW Staff Writer
Chicago has been finding ways to respond to the ruthless violence occurring in the city. This month a group of talented men have chosen a different approach to these concerns. Maleness to Manhood: Reclamation of the Young Black Man is a month-long art exhibit happening at the Southside Community Arts Center (SSCAC), 3831 S. Michigan Ave. 45 noted male artists, all men of color, have all created a visual response to the city’s brutality.
For the entire month SSCAC will be hosting this exhibit that is open and free to the public to view breath-taking, visually-colloquial art presentations created by emerging Chicago artists as well as respected legends of the art world.
The exhibit was originally inspired by Chicago’s major violence situation and was initially supposed to showcase six Chicago artists. Raymond A. Thomas, Creative Director of the SSCAC and Co-Curator to Maleness to Manhood; Reclamation of the Young Black Man, said that after the verdict of Trayvon Martin’s death back in July, the center decided to include more artists.
“We were hoping to have a six man group show that addresses the issues of violence in the community but as the year started to progress and the violence started to escalate we wanted to do more. We really felt an urge to cast out the net to a larger community of black male artists to address the senseless murders and also the travesty of injustice that goes on, particularly with black men. We felt that as fathers and as brothers as uncles, that it was our duty to stand up and address this issue”, said Thomas.
The exhibit will be hosting two major events in connection to the art being showcased and the young men in the black communities. Paint the Block is a festival scheduled Sept. 21 where the exhibit will be going into the streets with several artists. They will set up a pop-up art studio where artists will assist the community in painting positive images of the black community.
Artists Speak, scheduled Sept. 28, will feature many of the men discussing their pieces and how they connect to the issues of violence and injustice in the black communities. Viewers will be able to get a better understanding as well as ask any questions or concerns for one of the selections.
The center is spacious but each wall holds a unique work transporting conversation throughout the entire center. Before even completely entering the center, a gigantic sculpture of a man’s head greets you brazenly at the door. The piece, created by artist Stephan Flemister, has no title and is made of cardboard the color of dark chocolate; maybe ebony.
Behind this giant head sits a white picket-sign that leans against the wall. The sign reads, “Free Jesse Jr.” painted in bold, black letters on a wooden board painted white.
Viewers ponder over the recent 30-month sentence of former Congressmen Jesse Jackson Jr. and wonder what and why the sign says “Free Jesse Jr.” The creator of this piece is long time curator, former associate of the SSCAC, and current Associate Director University of Illinois College of Architecture, Design and the Arts, Faheem Majeed.
“The piece that I did was very contrary to a lot of what was being projected in the show. I just put a little spin on it. It was really about accountability and leadership.” Majeed explains that, although he does not necessarily agree with Jackson’s actions he does believe that everyone, as a people, is held accountable for his actions.
“It’s really about accountability in our black leaders and accountability for all these young black males; you know it’s a 360 approach. You can’t just point at the problem you know and not reference the solution because we’re all accountable. That’s what my piece is about.”
Majeed created a heavy conversation piece for this exhibit.
Majeed being a veteran in his art career has known many of the other artists for quite some time and is very familiar with almost everyone’s work initiatives. Thomas said the artists vary in prominence and practice but have done tremendous works, not just in Chicago but all over the country.
For over 70 years SSCAC has been a haven for young artists of color. A historical attribute in Chicago’s Bronzeville community, SSAC’s mission “is to establish the spaces as a resource for the art’s community locally and abroad. The exhibitions/exhibits will act as a catalyst to give emerging and established artist opportunities for growth through feedback displaying artwork, critical feedback, and documentation.”
“It’s a wide variety of artists. You have art legends like Melvin King and you have some young rising artists like Hebru Brantley – It’s a gamut full of young emerging artists and established artists. We reached out to artists who we knew were kind of addressing this issues”, said Thomas. He added that the entire concept of this exhibit is about uplifting and encouraging the black communities by showcasing these pieces by black men.
“All of our particular practices consist of mentoring and talking to young people on a daily basis. It’s all a part of the mission that we’re doing.”