Threewalls, a partner of Art Design Chicago, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. To commemorate this exciting achievement, Threewalls is continuing its legacy of supporting artists and communities within Chicagoland through the exhibition Dreaming of a Future. Curated by Jeffreen M. Hayes, Dreaming of a Future centers four local artists and their neighborhoods.
As described by Hayes, “Dreaming of a Future is an invitation to artists to consider a future in which Black and Brown peoples in Chicago have what they need to thrive without the systemic pressures impacting their lived experiences. The project centers the complexities of the human and lived experiences and uses contemporary practices as a bridge to do this deeply important and empowering work.”
Featured artists include Regina Agu, Andres L. Hernandez, Norman Long, and Nnenna Okore.
Regina Agu, is a photographer, worked with Threewalls to create a series of photographs titled Spring in the Winthrop Family Historical Garden. Two of these photographs were chosen to be installed, in the form of billboards, the Uptown neighborhood.
Art Design Chicago had the chance to participate in the opening programming for this billboard installation on Saturday, July 22nd, 2023. This event was free and open to the public. Agu led a walking tour that began at the Winthrop Family Historical Garden and ended at the billboard installation. The walk spanned the block of 4600 N. Winthrop Avenue.
While leading this walking tour, Agu shared information about the block. She explained that when Black residents began moving into Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood during the Jim Crow era, they were zoned into one block (4600 N. Winthrop Avenue). This segregation made the families living along the block very close-knit. Residents called themselves the “Winthrop Avenue Family” and did their best to support one another.
This historical background is crucial to consider when thinking about the formation of the Black community in the Uptown neighborhood.
Q&A with Artist Regina Agu
Art Design Chicago had the opportunity to ask artist Regina Agu some questions. This question-and-answer segment was facilitated by Art Design Chicago Intern, Kaitlin Rikala.
KR: The Winthrop Family Historical Garden has a rich history of community building and engagement. How has that influenced your artistic practice when it came to working on this project with Threewalls?
RA: While working on my project with Threewalls, my goal was to engage other community members, groups, and resources in keeping with the legacy of the Winthrop Family Historical Garden. Through this project I was able to directly engage with gardeners and with representatives from local community organizations and programming groups including Uptown United and NeighborSpace, and with research shared by those who have already been working and developing archives of the garden.
KR: How is this project different from ones that you have worked on in the past?
RA: I have worked on multiple projects exploring the relationships between Black communities and gardens, parks, and public green spaces in the past, particularly in Houston and New Orleans. This project was a wonderful opportunity to bring my research methods and practice of engaging community members into a new context―namely that of Uptown, Chicago, which has been my home for the past three years.
KR: Can you detail the process of how these billboards came to be? Whether through creative process, use of materials, etc.
RA: Since beginning my research for Dreaming of a Future, I knew that I wanted to explore community memory, placemaking, and the spatial politics of Uptown in Chicago. I also sought to create images that exist in public space and can be shared with the community itself. As a new Chicago resident, I was deeply interested in exploring how these longstanding research interests in my practice would be contextualized in my new home since my move from Houston in 2020. After some initial discussions with neighbors and other artists on the North Side, I identified the Winthrop Family Historical Garden as a site of interest. From winter 2022 onwards, I began to visit the garden as frequently as possible, documenting seasonal changes with photographs, while I conducted research into the history of the garden online and in person via conversations with community members. As the garden transitioned through the winter and spring months, I wanted my photography to reflect the changes that I was observing through layered multiple exposures, a technique that I’ve used in several photography projects to meditate on the passage of time through still photography.
Walking through the neighborhood, I identified a few billboard sites. The site at Lawrence and Winthrop presented a serendipitous opportunity to install the large-scale photographs in proximity to the garden as well as to the historic corridors that brought the Winthrop families to Uptown.
KR: Has working on this project made you feel closer to the community/neighborhood of Uptown?
RA: I definitely feel closer to the community as a result of this project. As a new Chicago resident who moved here just weeks before the city shut down due to the pandemic in 2020, connecting with my immediate neighbors and exploring Uptown were challenging. Through this project, I was able to build upon those connections. I’m happy that I get to reflect on one of the myriad rich histories of Uptown, with a unique perspective that I’m able to contribute from my practice.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kaitlin Rikala (they/them) is an art historian and creative writer. Kaitlin completed the 2023 UChicago MAPH Summer Internship with the Terra Foundation where they worked extensively on Terra’s Art Design Chicago initiative. They hold a master’s degree in art history, with an emphasis in curatorial and gender studies, from the University of Chicago.