20 Neighborhoods – Nov. 22, 2014

The Oil and Water exhibition provided a perfect first session in a new 20 Neighborhoods year at Woman Made Gallery. Around 1pm on the chilly November Saturday, teaching artists and adult participants began arriving at the Gallery in West Town. We came by CTA, Pace, car, van and bike from all over the city. Mingling around the gallery until it was time to start, participants got a feel for the environment and could preview the artworks before discussions. As we prepared to begin, there were four participants from the Arts of Life, one from Mercy Housing and five from Chinese American Service League, along with an interpreter and a 7-year-old! He did a lot to help break the ice.

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The day started with tours of the artwork exhibited throughout the Gallery. Arts of Life and Mercy Housing participants made up a group, led by Ana and Renie. Lots of new ideas were found in the abstract paintings that we viewed and discussed—animals, musical instruments, tools, narrative, Christmas wrapping paper and many other associations were found in the work. There was a very subtle piece that began discussion with participants’ frustration, “There’s nothing there! It’s just white.” To everyone’s surprise, it was one of the most productive and interesting conversations, with endless connections to be made. Teaching artists brought up ideas of technique and how the artwork could have been made, and asked how participants felt when they look at the work—what emotions they related to each piece.

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Focusing on just one art piece, Betsy led Chinese American Service League in their tour. Using a translator to communicate with the group, formal questions about process were discussed, as well as what makes “art” art.

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After the tours of the artwork, everyone was excited with artistic energy, especially after treats and coffee. While participants relaxed and ate, they couldn’t help but continue to talk about and look at the artwork.

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As the art-making section of the day began, and to help that the two groups could get to know each other a bit better, participants introduced themselves along with answering the question, “Why did you want to be a part of 20 Neighborhoods?”

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Teaching artists demonstrated how to experiment with paint, before allowing participants to begin. Nails, feathers, brushes, string, corks and other various materials were used to create marks on paper with acrylic paint. The first art-making action was for participants to paint on a piece of paper with these new materials for 3 minutes. When time was up, all paintings were passed to the left and painted on by the next person, adding to what is already there from previous artists. When everyone had contributed to each painting, we stopped and looked at all the work that had been made through collaboration. This activity was used as a way for all those involved to feel more comfortable with experimentation and abstract painting skills, in a spontaneous way before a final solo piece was to be made.

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Finally, participants were given small canvases on which to create a more complete abstract painting of their own. The results were great, but by the end of painting one, many were worn out or seemed to have already expended most of their creative energy. Two hours may have been too much time allotted to creating. Possibly more time could have been spent discussing, since it was fruitful and energetic the whole way through. This will be considered for next time.

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While activities began to wind down for the day, paintings were put to dry, buses and vans were boarded and all said good-byes. There was appreciation for the day’s events, and the opportunity to meet one another, expressed by all involved. Warmth and community for women in a woman-led space was plenty as we departed, to meet again in January.


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20 Neighborhoods is made possible with generous donations from The Efroymson Family Fund, a CICF Fund; a CityArts grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, and from individual donors.

20 Neighborhoods at Chinese American Service League

The 20 Neighborhoods workshops in Chinatown took place at the Chinese American Service League (CASL), a facility founded to support the needs of Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans in Chicago.  The organization provides a wide variety of services to the community; the building has everything from childcare to cooking classes to elderly services.  The 20 Neighborhoods workshops engaged specifically with elderly women who take part in CASL’s Adult Day Program.

caslTeaching artist Elaine Luther was responsible for developing and implementing the workshop activities with the group at CASL. She and teaching artist Stephanie Wernet, who led workshops at House of the Good Shepherd, worked together to ensure that despite their distance, both of their groups would experience some elements of the cross-community collaborations that were the focus of this year’s 20 Neighborhoods Project.  Both groups worked with batik, an ancient form of painting on cloth with wax and dye.  In a more direct exchange, women from both groups worked together to create paper chains.  The women at House of the Good Shepherd created paper links inscribed with a neighborhood or city  that held symbolic importance for them. Women from CASL lengthened the chain by answering the question, “What is the best advice you have ever given?”  The women wrote their answers on a strip of paper, and then added them to the original links from HGS, creating many long chains.

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CASL_Photowalk2The women began their final project by going on a photo walk through Chinatown, with instructions to look for colors and patterns that they had not previously noticed. They used their photos to create ‘Inspiration Boards”, and from there began their project of creating images on fabric using batik, fabric dye, and pounded flowers. The main focus of the workshops was the creation of a large canvas of collective pieces of fabric that had been both batiked and dyed by pounding flowers with hammers to extract the pigment.  When it was time to hammer the flowers, the women showed more strength than one might have expected from such sweet elderly ladies! 1378681_522408214513118_619384586_n

Next, the women assembled their pieces of fabric in a patchwork-like pattern onto a large stretched canvas, creating a beautiful collective artwork that resembled a quilt made of pastel-colored cloth.  Teaching Artist Elaine Luther reports that when they were finished, many of the women decided that it didn’t look “quite Chinese enough”, so they decided to add a red and gold border; two very important colors in Chinese art and culture.

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Prior to the final exhibition at Woman Made Gallery, CASL hosted a Community Showcase and Exhibition in their grand hall. It was a grand affair, with many staff members and Chinese newspaper journalists in attendance. CASL president Bernarda Wong addressed the crowd, and praised the women for their beautiful work. Other art created by seniors in the Adult Day Program was also on display, including last year’s 20 Neighborhoods project, which was some of the first art created by seniors at CASL. The highlight was a demonstration in which the women sat around a table and created a fast version of a collaborative fabric collage to show all in attendance the work behind their masterpiece.IMG_6529

Finally, the gallery hosted some of the seniors from the Adult Day Program at the final 20 Neighborhoods exhibition. We talked about their project, and some of the other art on display. Hope to see you and your clients again soon, CASL!

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–Lydia Shepard, 20 Neighborhoods Intern

20 Neighborhoods: Collaging Memories at Hamdard Center in Edgewater

Women at the Hamdard Center for Health and Human Services came together with Teaching Artist Victoria Martinez to use fiber collage techniques as a means to tell stories about their home countries of India and Pakistan, and their current lives in Chicago. For more photos, check out the Facebook album.

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Teaching Artist Victoria Martinez wanted to design a project that would emphasize the 20 Neighborhoods Project’s emphasis on themes of community and place, while at the same time representing both her own visual history as a practicing artist and the visual aspects of the South Asian culture of the women she would be working with at Hamdard. “Once I came to Hamdard Center,” Victoria said, “I noticed the women were wearing saris, so I thought that it would be a great idea to combine some of their traditions with some of the practices I use in my studio.”

Victoria guided the group of women in creating fiber-collage illustrations based on narratives of community experiences from their home countries and from Chicago, and then sewing the collages onto saris. The final installation involves sewing the ends of each sari together to represent the crossing and union of the women’s paths.

When I first visited Hamdard Center, I saw the women were a lively bunch, chatting amongst themselves in Urdu and 1239771_517488655005074_972703421_nHindi, occasionally punctured by English words. It was evident the group is close friends. Once it was time to start writing their favorite memories, the group became quiet with concentration. On colorful paper, they wrote their fondest memories of India, Pakistan and their current homes in Chicago. Once completed, they shared their stories with the group.

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Many of the recollections expounded on each woman’s bi-cultural experiences. There were stories of their childhoods in their native countries, accounts of their proudest moments in their careers, their families, and most notably, all women spoke of their love of Chicago and the joy that the Hamdard Center brought them in creating a comfortable and creative community.

After this brief storytelling, Victoria laid out vibrant fabric paper so the women could begin crafting collages to complement their story-lines with shapes of flowers, mountains, flags, and more, all artistically arranged around their narratives.

1233576_517488541671752_1689994215_nWhen I asked the women about their pieces, they were happy to share. One woman, Shahzadi Kaleemulla, wrote a three piece memory reflection of her favorite life experiences: one as a college student in a dorm, the second as a teacher, and the third describing her move to be with her family in Chicago. Another woman, Fatma Weldingwala, wrote a narrative of her past and present, which delved into the beautiful scenery of her native country and Chicago, which she symbolically emphasized in her collage piece with a delicate, long-stemmed flower.

1381948_517488785005061_685609250_nSlowly, each woman finished her collage, and Victoria began collecting their work to begin stitching each narrative to an individual sari. Vibrant turquoise-blue, golden-yellow and burgundy-red saris displayed the women’s collages, and strung together, the effect was like an opened, rolled out scroll. Each sari was like a chapter in a book, and once the saris are stitched together, they will illustrate a communal, collective history.

–Helen Celewicz, Gallery Intern

20 Neighborhoods: Art Experimentation at Imagine Englewood If…

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This year, for Phase II of the 20 Neighborhoods Project, Living Art Center’s Women Veterans Art Group and Imagine Englewood have come together to work on a collaborative art project.  The workshops have been taking place at I.E.I., a safe space for residents of Englewood to come together and imagine a bright future for the neighborhood, and strategize on how it can be attained.  Living Arts has come to Englewood from Andersonville to participate in the project, focused around this year’s theme:  “A City of Communities.” For more photos, check out the facebook album.

IEI3blogThe group, lead by teaching artist Betsy Zacsek and art therapist and Living Arts founder Suellen Semekoski, have been experimenting with paper making techniques and sculptural construction with found sticks and yarn.  On the first day of the workshop, the participants took turns wrapping colorful yarn around the sticks, and using the opportunity to talk in a safe setting about their experiences in Englewood, Chicago, and at home with their families.  The yarn and the sticks served as a powerful metaphor: when individuals are bound together to a form a community, they are less likely to break.

During the second day of the workshop, Betsy lead the group through the process of creating handmadeIEI2 paper from cotton pulp.  The pulp was dyed to bright colors, and the participants were welcomed to experiment with paints, sculpture, pressing shapes, and cutting the edges.  As Betsy said to participants during the workshop: “Experiment until you can’t stand to look at it anymore.”  She really encouraged the group to step outside of their comfort zones and try something that they had never done before.

With one more session left to go, and more experimentation in store, save the date for Monday, October 21 to visit I.E.I. and see the final product. The Community Showcase will be held in conjunction with I.E.I.’s monthly community networking event, from 4-7pm.  All are welcome, and light refreshments will be served.

–Lydia Shepard, Gallery Intern

20 Neighborhoods: Exploring Church and Community in Roseland

Teaching Artist Patricia Stewart presented an imaginative challenge to a group of women residents at Roseland Place Apartments, a senior housing residence developed by Mercy Housing. She asked the women to explore their personal and community-oriented relationships to Church, via the construction of a miniature house of worship, complete with stained glass window panes, an internal light, and a courtyard. For more photos, check out the Facebook album.

As a gallery intern, I had the opportunity to visit the workshop and talk to the women involved, thus gaining an intimate view of both the project’s development, and outcome.

In designing this project, Ms. Stewart contemplated the physical and social landscape of Black neighborhoods for inspiration. She asked herself: “What is the neighborhood known for? What do we do in the neighborhood? What are our favorite places, and basically, how do we get there?” Patricia determined some of the strongest communities are formed around churches, and used that as the basis of the project.

Ms. Stewart encouraged the women to think of the communal aspects of the neighborhood that are most important to them, and to discuss the role that church has had in their lives, and the lives of their friends and family.

The women began  the project by working individually on painting glass picture frames, which would make the stained glass windows of the church structure. Using paint, glass stones, and markers, the women made colorful, personalized designs framing the name of their favorite local church or passage from the Bible.

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As they worked, group member Kay Carter shared her experience of the project thus far: “Just using a different medium, that was a learning process for me, and that was interesting. It was something new, something I’ve never encountered in painting, and I liked it… That’s why I always try to involve myself with art, because it teaches me something new and sometimes it overflows into my life, because everything is connected.” Another collaborator, Gene, said “I enjoyed the whole thing. I love arts and crafts, so anytime it’s something dealing with doing something with my hands, I love it.”

1380643_518707174883222_2127930647_nOnce the glass stain images were completed, Ms. Stewart presented cardboard boxes which would serve as the structure for the church. Working together, the women pasted paper world maps to the cardboard, symbolizing the connectivity of various churches and various communities with one another and the larger world. Afterwards, the women fit their stained glass windows into cutouts in the cardboard, and placed an electric light inside to illuminate each stained glass image.

The individual and communal impact of the project was strongly evident. There was tremendous support and camaraderie, and there was unanimous pride amongst the women in completing something beautiful and meaningful. Speaking of her own experience, Ms. Carter shared: “Doing art period helps stabilize me as a person, and helps me evolve and helps me see what’s on the other side. It calms me down. I love color, shape and design, and whenever there’s an opportunity to do art, I do art… Art is pulling me into that aspect of community, because without art I don’t know if I could even enter into a community project. Art helps me in so many ways.”

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–Helen Celewicz, Gallery Intern