The exhibit is called “50×50 Invitational / The Subject is Chicago: People, Places, Possibilities.” The words in the title tug on a range of thematic threads, leaving a viewer of the exhibit without a concrete summary of what they’re about to see. Visitors walk into the Chicago Cultural Center with only a vague conception of the works’ source—Chicago—and the unobtrusive guidance of a few posters hanging on the wall near the entrance. They include a colored map of the city divided into its fifty wards, along with the corresponding names of fifty artists or collaborative teams. Beyond that, the viewer is set free; there is little linear progression to the exhibit or organization in terms of theme within the space. Photographs of children on a street hang alongside collage-like paintings. There’s a video of schoolchildren singing “America the Beautiful,” a horn on a chair and a device that plays accompanying sound, and a red and gold rug that cohabitates peacefully with a neighboring series of lake photographs. This is not an exhibition that’s already been pieced together a certain way; its presentation asks us to be open-minded in our viewing and interpretation.
It’s just after noon in Englewood, and light throws itself in bars across the floor of Kusanya Cafe as the door swings open and shut. Seated at the front window of the restaurant among light chatter and the clatter of plates, South Side local Shawnee Dez brushes her hair back from her face and goes into performance mode.