Bronzeville's vibrant past comes to life in new art exhibit

May 14, 2014

(Photo courtesy of Samantha Hill)
Image from “Topographical Depictions of the Bronzeville Renaissance.”

Bronzeville on Chicago’s South Side was once home to cultural giants like Nat King Cole and Gwendolyn Brooks. But a current art exhibit reveals another side of the neighborhood.

“Topographical Depictions of the Bronzeville Renaissance” by Samantha Hill is currently on display at the Hyde Park Art Center.

Family pictures of ordinary people drape the walls. Period music and oral recorded interviews play in the background. Old photographs are clipped to clotheslines.

“I like the idea of the clotheslines because it kind of simulates a timeline but I can play with it a bit more. I like the idea of hanging the pictures like I’m hanging laundry. These are peoples’ personal memories and artifacts,” Hill said.

The date of the pictures range from 1919 to 1985 and were supplied by the Bronzeville Historical Society. Hill said she chose pictures that conveyed the feeling of Bronzeville – children preparing for communion, men returning from war, couples at nightclubs or a grandfather reading a book.

“There’s quite a few photographs of this gentleman named Earl Washington,” Hill noted. “You’ll see throughout the decades he’s always doing handstands so there’s like a million photographs of that!”

Visitors can respond by writing post-it notes around the photos. As the exhibit draws to a close, Hill said more than 200 post-its have now taken over the gallery. And there’s still time for the public to share their brief ruminations.

“I hope they come in, listen to the stories, view the photographs throughout history and then be transported to another period of time, and hopefully leave their mark as well.”

The exhibit closes May 18. The Hyde Park Art Center is at 5020 S. Cornell Ave. Hill's installation is a satellite exhibition of a city-wide project produced at Columbia College called “RISK: Empathy, Art and Social Practice" colum.edu/risk.

is WBEZ’s South Side Bureau reporter. nmoore@wbez.org

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