A pair of exhibitions showcasing talent from Black Chicagoans and artists worldwide opened at the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) last week as part of the institution’s Black Creativity Program.
The Juried Art Exhibition, the nation’s longest-running Black-created art exhibit, has been around since 1970. The show features work from an array of artists who use unique media to explore the scientific and creative innovations of Black people.
“Black Creativity: Art and Activism” features artistic and public responses of Chicagoans to the protests last summer after the death of George Floyd, including art from local teen artists.
Paul Branton, a visual artist and second-year juror for the exhibit, spoke about the importance of artists evoking emotion that may have been felt during that time. “I always think that artists, whether they're visual musicians or poets, they’re always documenting what's going on and they're always expressing things in a way that other people can't express,” he said. “It's a part of being an artist — we absorb all this information, and we regurgitate it in whatever form we're working with.”
Branton explained the difficulty he and his fellow jurors felt having to narrow down the pieces for the show. “It's an intense process when you're trying to whittle down 600-something pieces of art to see what can fit into this show. I didn't even think about how diverse it was until I got here.”
Diverse is the perfect term to use when describing the Juried Art Exhibition program with works that include mediums like oil paintings, photography, and even banana husk.
One of the pieces is “Silence and Volume” by Derrick Burnett, which features portraits of Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, and Vanessa Guillén — the former two shot by police, the third killed by another soldier — painted on a loudspeaker, and attempts to give a voice to those who were silenced when others decided to take their lives.
“Reaching Beyond the Line,” a powerful mixed-media work by the artist Malik Norman, includes a painting of what resembles a creek on top of cloth material that is bound by a rope. Behind the cloth is a hidden poem, which describes a man who is seen as invisible only because people refuse to see him. The piece captures the American experience for people who always feel unseen.
“You have this show that's been around for over five decades and the importance of what it means for us to be exalted and strong. Especially when you have a history where, when (you) would go to the Art Institute, for instance, you barely saw any representation of yourself,” said Branton, who grew up in West Chatham.
The Black Creativity Program will be on display at the Museum of Science and Industry from now until June. Check msichicago.org for hours, ticket prices, and COVID-19 safety protocols.