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.


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.


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.


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

20 Neighborhoods: Making Paper at HACC in Rogers Park

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Phase II of the 20 Neighborhoods Project is in full swing at Howard Area Community Center!

Teaching artist Kristin Abhalter has been guiding a group of students through the process of making paper from pulp culminated from recycled paper and hexagon-shaped molds.  The result has been sheets upon sheets of beautifully colored bright paper.  The theme of Phase II is “A City of Communities”, with a hacc blog_1focus on community and Chicago.  With this in mind, the group has collaboratively created an embellished map using the sheets of handmade paper, and other materials, to represent the participants’ experiences in Chicago.

In addition to creating their map, the group is also stringing more handmade paper into garlands, using large colorful beads.  These garlands are long, spanning from ceiling to floor of the classroom, and numerous in color and creativity.hacc blog_2

The 7-9 participants are a diverse group, all of whom are either ESL or adult education students taking classes at Howard Area Community Center. They originate from various countries and reside in and around Rogers Park, Edgewater, and Evanston.  The group even includes a painter from Haiti who had no idea that his work had made it to the internet, until the group decided to look him up online during a workshop session, and discovered his web presence!

See the final product of these workshop sessions and visit a fabulous community space in Rogers Park! Come to the Community Showcase being held at Howard Area Community Center on Thursday, October 17th, from 11am to 12pm.

–Lydia Shepard, 20 Neighborhoods Intern


Art Project in Progress with Women Veterans Art Group and Imagine Englewood If

Art Project in Progress with Women Veterans Art Group and Imagine Englewood If

Back in Action: 20 Neighborhoods, Phase II

WMG’S 20 Neighborhoods project is back in action for a second year of art-making and community-building, this time united under the theme “A City of Communities”. Thirteen of last year’s project partners and fifteen teaching artists are joining forces in groups of ones and twos to carry out arts workshops and Community Showcase exhibitions in nine neighborhoods across Chicago, with a focus on collaborative art creation and a goal of deepening connections between communities. As part of Chicago Artists Month, all of the groups will come together for a final exhibition at Woman Made Gallery, from October 26th through October 31st. The opening reception will take place on October 26th from 1 to 5pm, and is free and open to the public.

Where is it happening and what is everyone making? 

Community Showcase at Center on Halsted

Community Showcase at Center on Halsted

Artists with disabilities from the Arts of Life in West Town met at Center on Halsted in Lakeview to explore intersections of disability and LGBTQ identity and community. Using found objects, print-making, collage, and weaving techniques, they created a large hanging mobile sculpture to represent their connectivity  as individuals. Click this link to see photos of the workshops and Community Showcase.

Bronzeville and Bridgeport residents meet at Benton House in Bridgeport to examine their geographically close but culturally different communities. They create a sculptural dinner table setting representing both communities, and their hope for a more connected future. Meet the artists and see the final piece in a Community Showcase at partner organization South Side Community Art Center in Bronzeville, Tuesday October 22nd, from 6 to 8pm. Showcase is concurrent with curator Tempestt Hazel’s talk on SSCAC’s Recess exhibition, which will also be open to the public. 2 art events in one!

Englewood residents meet with Living Arts Center’s Women Veterans Art Group of Andersonville  at Imagine Englewood If to share individual and community-oriented memories and stories. Using yarn-wrapping and handmade paper sculpture techniques, they are envisioning new approaches to community and neighborhood safety. Meet the artists and see the final piece in a Community Showcase at Imagine Englewood If on Monday October 21st, from 4 to 7pm, in conjunction with I.E.I.’s community networking event.  Click this link to see photos of the workshops in progress.

Workshop at Centro Autónomo

Workshop at Centro Autónomo

Albany Park residents gather at Mexico Solidarity Center’s Centro Autónomo, where they are engaging in conversation around community activism and empowerment. They are making prints and image transfers to create individual and community-produced ‘quilt squares’, and then assembling them into a larger, site-specific installation of work at the gallery in Rumble Arts Center, Humboldt Park. Click this link to see photos of the workshops in progress. Meet the artists and see the final piece in a Community Showcase on Saturday October 12th, from 2 to 4pm at Rumble Arts.

Seniors in the Adult Day Program at Chinese American Service League in Chinatown explore neighborhood mapping, focusing on new ways of seeing the colors and forms that surround them. Through taking photo walks, picking flowers, and learning new batik and collage techniques, the group creates a large-scale collaborative collage celebrating the seen and unseen elements of the neighborhood they live in. Click this link to see photos of the workshops as they progress. Meet the artists and see the final piece in a Community Showcase at CASL on Wednesday October 23rd, 10am – 12pm.

Seniors in the Adult Day Program at Hamdard Center for Health and Human Services in Edgewater use fiber art and collage techniques to reflect on stories and share memories from their home countries of India and Pakistan, as well as their current lives in Chicago. The women tell their stories by creating fabric symbols and glyphs and affixing them to traditional saris. By sewing together the sleeves of the saris, they are creating a final hanging installation depicting the joining of their lives and journeys. Click this link to see photos of the workshops as they progress. Showcase date and time TBA.


Workshop at Howard Area Community Center

Students from the Adult Education ESL program at Howard Area Community Center in Rogers Park find commonalities through conversations about giving and receiving advice. They create handmade paper hexagons and string them with beads into gigantic floor to ceiling garlands, representing circles of connectivity and creativity. Click this link to see photos of the workshops as they progress. Meet the artists and see the final piece in a Community Showcase at HACC on  October 17th, 11am-12pm.

Survivors of domestic violence who live at House of the Good Shepherd in an undisclosed location focus on the neighborhoods they came from and how ideas of place help to form individual and group identity. In a gesture of collaboration across many differences, they create a paper chain that references these ideas, to be shared and completed by the women at Chinese American Service League. They are also using batik techniques to complete their final collective art piece. Private showcase.

Residents at Mercy Housing’s Roseland Place Apartments in Roseland are exploring the role of churches in their lives and the ways in which churches are instruments of empowerment within the Black communities. Using writing, stained glass, and cardboard construction techniques, the group collaborates on the creation of a three-dimensional church-like structure. With an electric light inside, the piece literally illuminates the number and types of churches in the Roseland neighborhood, and how they affect the communities of people who live there. Click this link to see photos of the workshops as they progress. Meet the artists and see the final piece in a Community Showcase at Roseland Place Apartments on Saturday October 5th, 1 – 3pm.

Special thanks to the 20 Neighborhoods Teaching Artists:

NIC Kay, Elyse Schauer, and Veronica Stein with Center on Halsted & Arts of Life

Elise Cody, Kristina Tendilla, and Ife Williams with Benton House and South Side Community Art Center

Suellen Semekoski and Betsy Zacsek with Living Art Center’s Women Veterans Art Group and Imagine Englewood If

Silvia Gonzalez and Jeannette Perkal with Centro Autónomo

Elaine Luther with Chinese American Service League

Victoria Martinez with Hamdard Center

Kristin Abhalter with Howard Area Community Center

Stephanie Piccirilli with House of the Good Shepherd

Patricia Stewart with Roseland Place Apartments (Mercy Housing)

And also big thanks to our interns and volunteers:

Lexi Dickens – 20 Neighborhoods Intern

Lydia Shepard – 20 Neighborhoods Intern

Helen Celewicz – Gallery Intern and volunteer photography and blogging

Susan Mazzeri – Volunteer design

Katherine Robinson – Volunteer photography and blogging

This project is made possible through generous support from The Efroymson Family Fund, a CICF Fund, and individual donors.

We are still working towards our fundraising goal! Please consider a donation to Woman Made Gallery in support of 20 Neighborhoods