A new art exhibition explores themes from “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry — the seminal play set in Chicago — where local and global artists wrestle with the theme of “home.”
The exhibit was curated by Asha Iman Veal, who as a graduate student in 2016 stumbled across a series of images by a Polish scholar of African-American literature. The photographs captured the play “A Raisin in the Sun” performed in Eastern Europe in the 1960s — in blackface.
Veal moved past the minstrelsy to understand the global appreciation of “A Raisin in the Sun.” To be sure, the images are jarring. But Veal was curious when she saw photos of actors who darkened their skin to imitate the Black family featured in the 1959 Broadway play by Hansberry, a Chicago native.
“There were a lot of different political reasons [the play was so popular]. There was the thought about Black Americans at that particular history and time as being a force of rebellion or resistance against a large American capitalism,” Veal said. “There were ties to communism, obviously, in the community during that time. Lorraine was hugely popular in [Eastern and Central Europe].”
What was born from Veal’s research is “Raisin,” a new art exhibition she curated at 6018North gallery in the Edgewater neighborhood. Thirty-seven local and global artists wrestle with the theme of home in the space, which is a former mansion.
“A Raisin in the Sun” was the first time a play by a Black woman made it to Broadway. The drama is about the Youngers, an intergenerational family living on the South Side of Chicago in a cramped apartment. The Youngers receive a financial windfall and seek to buy a home in a white neighborhood. Problem is, the white neighborhood association doesn’t want them.
The exhibit “Raisin” recreates the Younger living room set. A collection of postcards sits on a side table with images from various productions of the play over the decades. On the back wall artist Brett Swinney has photos of a home his grandparents bought on the South Side decades ago. Chicago-based artist zakkiyyah najeebah dumas-o’neal has a piece with blueprint images that is in tribute to her grandfather, a rare Black architect on the South Side. Zhiyuan Yang grew up in Beijing and thinks about heteronormativity in domestic spaces and his photos show his parents gender swapping. Chicago-based Amanda Williams, known for color theory, imagines the color of segregation: “raisin purple” from the Sherwin-Williams palette is painted on the second floor.
Two videos play downstairs from choreographer Kierah King as feminists homages to Beneatha, the fiercely independent and educated sister in “A Raisin in the Sun.” In a tribute to the second scene in act 2, a dancer does a physical reenactment of angst and movement after she rejects advances from a potential suitor.
“Beneatha was a character that honestly I felt really connected to. She’s just trying to find herself trying to do more than what people expected of what she can do and who she can be,” King said.
Outside on the front porch, artist Kyle Bellucci Johanson spells out phrases with grass seeds on 66 welcome mats. The words come from a white member of the neighborhood association in the play.
“He is constantly smiling. He’s sweating, not from heat, from anxiety and, and, and he’s delivering the most horrible racist news through this polite smiling face,” Johanson said.
Those fertilized seeds will turn into long green grass that will grow up through the mats. Visitors will trample the grass, which will go through a whole lifecycle during the course of the ‘Raisin’ exhibition.
“Raisin” runs Sept. 17 to Dec. 18 at 6018North Gallery, 6018 N. Kenmore Ave.