Visual Arts

Not Forgotten

An exhibition at an East Side gallery remembers the dead through the art they left behind

Untitled, Francisco Mendoza (Wikimedia Commons)

Just in time for Día de los Muertos, a colorful exhibition named “Not Forgotten” has opened at East Side art gallery Under the Bridge, featuring the work both of artists who have passed away, and living artists painting their ofrendas—ritual altars honoring deceased people with objects from their lives. Many of the artists, whose mediums include painting, photography, and printmaking, are Chicagoans, and some died as recently as a few months ago.

The Transport of a Rican Head, Gamaliel Ramirez (Wikimedia Commons)

The Transport of a Rican Head, Gamaliel Ramirez (Wikimedia Commons)

Local artists Roman and Maria Villarreal, who operate Under the Bridge, welcomed the public to the exhibition’s opening on October 26. Many of the pieces were created by artists who were close friends of the couple. “Day of the Dead is a time to honor our friends and family. We lost so many friends this year, so we said, let’s do this [exhibit] with the pieces we have of theirs,” Maria said.

Gamaliel Ramirez is one of the recently deceased whose works are on display. A self-taught painter of Puerto Rican descent, Ramirez created murals in neighborhoods across Chicago. He died this past May at the age of sixty-eight in Puerto Rico, where he had lived since 2011. Chicagoans may be acquainted with some of Ramirez’s more visible murals, like “Sea of Flags” at Division and Campbell or “Birds of Latin America” at Division and Rockwell. At Under the Bridge, they can now see an original self-portrait and a painting of the Beatles, just two of nearly thirty works that were shipped back to Chicago after his death, Maria said. Ramirez is not the only muralist in the show; Francisco Mendoza, a South Chicago native and another close friend of the Villarreals, is known for his elaborate wall paintings at the 18th Street Pink Line stop, Orozco Community Academy in Pilsen, and the South Chicago YMCA.

As the Garsa Flies, Gamaliel Ramirez (Wikimedia Commons)

As the Garsa Flies, Gamaliel Ramirez (Wikimedia Commons)

The pictures of Robert Sengstacke, a photojournalist for the Chicago Defender (his family founded the newspaper) are also included. Sengstacke photographed prominent figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Fidel Castro, but, as a former publisher of the Defender told the Tribune after Sengstacke’s death last year, “He loved to be able to tell the stories of the underclass, of ordinary people.”

“Not Forgotten” features a range of art forms, and Maria insists there is a common thread beyond the fact that the artists have passed before us. “They’re all beautiful people. That’s their commonality.”

“Not Forgotten.” Under the Bridge Art Studio, 10052 S. Ewing Ave. Through November 9. (773) 437-3195.

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Bridget Gamble is a contributor to the Weekly and communications specialist. She last wrote for the Weekly in July about salvaged interiors from the Johnson Publishing offices.

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