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"Looks Like Freedom"

  AfriCOBRA steals this show. Formed on the South Side in the 1960s to provide a visual manifestation of the Black Power movement, the black...

Photograph: Courtesy of the South Side Community Art CenterBarbara Jones-Hogu, Relate to Your Heritage, c. 1970.

 

AfriCOBRA steals this show. Formed on the South Side in the 1960s to provide a visual manifestation of the Black Power movement, the black artists’ collective created brilliant, African-inspired graphic designs with militant messages. In one of Barbara Jones-Hogu’s vibrant silk-screened posters, a mother and her children call out, “We need you, black men!” A man in Gerald Williams’s Wake Up!—executed in psychedelic oranges, reds and purples—confronts viewers with a fictitious government plan for dealing with race-related violence.

These activist artists weren’t just innovators in graphic design; along with the Wall of Respect mural at 43rd Street and Langley Avenue (also showcased in this exhibition), they gave individual faces to the passionate crowds of people taking advantage of the 1960s’ revolutionary air. “Looks Like Freedom” also includes work from the era by the Hairy Who, an influential local artists’ group, and underground publications such as The Chicago Seed, which comment on the misogyny and racism found in activist groups like the Students for a Democratic Society.

The DOVA Temporary Gallery is located in Hyde Park’s Harper Court. Photographs and newspaper clippings about this 1965 urban-renewal project—which once housed several local arts institutions—offer additional context, though they lack the impact of AfriCOBRA and the Hairy Who’s work. The Chicago art world circa 1968 may be overshadowed by that year’s Democratic National Convention, but the movements on display here were no less important.

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