“Recession,” on view now at the South Side Community Art Center (SSCAC) and running through May 2, 2010, marks the 70th anniversary of the SSCAC itself and the five year anniversary of an annual exhibition co-organized by The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and SSCAC.
A fitting title for the exhibition, held during the present economic downturn, the show itself features a host of SAIC alumni and student artworks, installations and participatory projects. Chiefly housed on the third floor, these projects include a “free store,” an open call for recipes for publication in a forthcoming cookbook and a compilation of video essays from visitors on how the recession has affected them.
Even more fitting is the context of the SSCAC itself. The sole surviving community art center funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the entire nation, it persists in the spirit of that project itself, fostering art and culture in order to restore and sustain economic and social well-being.
Economic recessions also provide a road map for the history of the SSCAC itself. Combined with WPA funding to remodel the private mansion into a community art center, the Bronzeville community itself launched an arduous three-year-long grass roots fund-raising campaign from 1937 until it’s doors opened in 1940, to pay for the lease and purchase of the building-- all done amidst the throes of the Great Depression.
Archibald Motley. Sunday in the Park. 1941. Oil on canvas. Image courtesy of the SSCAC.
Some of the first members of the SSCAC, who were also SAIC alums, are on view in the present exhibition, such as Archibald Motley. They supported the development of the SSCAC because at the time it was one of the few venues where black artists were welcome to exhibit their work.
Seventy years later, the relationship between SAIC and SSCAC is being nurtured back to health by co-curators James Britt (Director of Multicultural Affairs at SAIC), Stanley Kincaid (SAIC alumnus and member of SAIC’s African American Alumni Association), and Faheem Majeed (Curator of the SSCAC). Aside from the different generations of artists at different points in their careers colliding and cross-pollinating, the partnership has also yielded a handful of other well-received collaborations, including a 2008 SAIC course taught on Bronzeville and held at the SSCAC, and the Dr. Margaret Burroughs Award, bestowed upon an SAIC student as a “best in show” prize. Dr. Burroughs, an SAIC alumnus herself, embodies the SAIC/SSCAC bond, having helped found the art center itself when she was just twenty-two and later going onto establish the DuSable Museum of African American History, in 1961, with her husband.
Barbara Jones-Hogu. Unite. 1971. Silk screen. Image courtesy of the SSCAC.
In the sometimes mixed offerings of this group show, a standout cabal of works features AfriCOBRA cofounder Barbara Jones-Hogu’s brightly colored silkscreen entitled Unite from 1971, depicting the raised fists of a fervent crowd in the foreground against a backdrop of zig-zagging, all caps flashes of the word “unite” in the background [seen above]. An atypical black and white Elizabeth Catlett print entitled Latin America Says No, appearing heavily influenced by the Mexican Muralists and Käthe Kollwitz, nicely contrasts artist and designer Ray Noland’s, a.k.a. CRO, American Values from 2010. Somewhat of a local celebrity due to his grassroots Obama and “Run, Blago, Run” street art, Noland’s stencil and spray paint on canvas of a women’s three quarter profile shows her powdering her jawline with a red, white and blue streaking rouge, adding a contemporary agitprop spin to the grouping.
The opening, with the front doors flung wide open and people streaming in off the street, felt like equal parts block party and family reunion, thanks to the live band and trays of steaming food. With the unique curatorial conceit behind this exhibition shown in SSCAC’s gem of a building, Recession simultaneously repeats and makes a small bit of history.
--Thea Liberty Nichols