For the People Artists Collective looks back on 100 years of police violence in Chicago | Art Review | Chicago Reader

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For the People Artists Collective looks back on 100 years of police violence in Chicago

"Do Not Resist?" spreads its message throughout the city

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F ive television screens sit around a living room among houseplants, table lamps, and easy chairs. Each screen shows a family member of Rekia Boyd, the 22-year-old woman who was killed by Chicago police officer Dante Servin in March 2012. As Boyd's brother talks about his sister-the way she laughed, how she would brighten a room-the others listen and then respond. The installation, called Present Absence, evokes a "listening circle," a virtual dialogue about the deceased, that gives the viewer a more personal look at the life lost. Created by filmmakers Salome Chasnoff and Meredith Zielke, it's one of 120 pieces featured in "Do Not Resist? 100 Years of Police Violence in Chicago," a citywide art exhibition organized by For the People Artists Collective.

"We wanted to dig a little bit deeper into this long, long legacy of police violence, and how violence is inherent in policing as a whole system," says Monica Trinidad, a collective member and one of the show's curators. "These aren't just these random accidents or incidents. These are all connected."

The exhibition opened on January 12 at the Hairpin Arts Center in Avondale. It showcases work by more than two dozen artists and features an in-depth time line of policing in the city going back to 1917. It also serves as the main hub for three satellite shows at other galleries around the city. Each space shows work based on a different theme: at Roman Susan, there's a focus on remembrance and paying tribute to CPD victims, while at Uri-Eichen, local artist Larry Redmond will show his photographs of activism over the years. Art In These Times will feature a more factual look at police violence with an exhibit by the Invisible Institute.

"[The collective is] trying to emphasize the importance of art and how integral it is to organizing," Trinidad explains. "Because it's a way that people have always resisted, through arts and culture."

The work of artist and graphic designer Emory Douglas embodies that combination of art and activism. Douglas, who served as minister of culture for the Black Panther Party from 1967 until the party disbanded in 1980, has two prints on display at Hairpin, both from 1970. One shows a black revolutionary wearing buttons bearing the names of Chicago Panthers killed by police. The other is a rear-view drawing of a black person in handcuffs getting hit in the back by an oversize bullet printed with the words "POLICE TERROR, USA."

Ricardo Levins Morales, another longtime political artist, submitted a never-before-seen print for the exhibit that honors the life of Manuel Ramos, a member of the Puerto Rican civil rights group the Young Lords Organization who was was killed by CPD in May 1969. The scratchboard-and-ink work shows Ramos standing amid a cityscape; behind him is the Young Lords logo, "Tengo Puerto Rico en mi corazon" ("I have Puerto Rico in my heart").

Gone But Not Forgotten, a quilting project made by Rachel Wallis in collaboration with We Charge Genocide, is one of the most prominent pieces on display; it takes up much of the gallery at Hairpin. Six quilt panels display the names of 144 people who were killed by Chicago police or died while in police custody between 2006 and 2015. Each name is placed in a star, along with the person's age and the date of his or her death. More than 200 community members gathered together to work on the quilt and listen to stories about the individual lives of the deceased. Binders accompany the panels featuring news stories or short biographies of as many of the people as the participants could find information on. As Wallis notes in a video on the project, there is no public record of these names (the Chicago Police Department doesn't include fatal shootings by police officers in the city's annual homicide count); she and her collaborators compiled their list by searching through newspaper clippings and interviewing victims' families. " Gone But Not Forgotten," she writes on her website, "appears to be the most comprehensive public collection of information about who has been killed by the police in Chicago."

Viewing the piece is a truly staggering experience. The sheer number of names gives an overwhelming sensation of just how many lives have been lost to police violence in our city.

It was this work that gave Salome Chasnoff the idea for the Present Absence video project. She had been documenting the quilting process and helping to facilitate a conversation among the quilters about restorative justice.

Chasnoff has worked with people affected by the criminal justice system for many years, and she took issue with the way people killed by police are often portrayed. "There's a gross misrepresentation of the way they were killed and why they were killed," she says. "They're characterized as people who had it coming." With her project, which tells the story of five individuals killed by CPD, she wanted to create a space for those to become visible "not as cases or statistics."

Nowhere is that more evident than in the video featuring the family of Dakota Bright, a 15-year-old boy shot and killed in November 2012. His younger sister, Makayla Edwards, talks about how her brother used to defend her against bullies and cheer her up when she was sad. While most of her family members can't get through their interviews without tearing up, Edwards retains her composure. But her last words illustrate how her brother's killing has affected her. "I wanted to be a police officer since I was seven," she says. "But that made me change my mind-set."

Trinidad hopes that the works on display, along with the programming scheduled throughout the show, can help viewers imagine a future without policing. "I think that art is a really good sort of gateway for these conversations," she says. "There was a world that once existed without police. There was a world that existed without prisons. We can get there again. It's not going to happen overnight, but we can start exploring alternatives now."  v

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