SOUTH SHORE — In 1968, the Illinois Black Panther Party emerged as a political force in Chicago — fighting racism, police brutality and speaking out against capitalism.
This weekend, a traveling art exhibition honoring the party’s impact in Illinois kicked off at the Stony Island Arts Bank.
ICONIC: Black Panther, an art exhibition that honors the enduring legacy of the Black Panther Party, opened in Chicago Friday night after making previous stops in Oakland and Los Angeles.
Founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale on Oct. 15, 1966, in Oakland, the Black Panther Party signaled a shift in the Civil Rights era to black pride, community unity, social services, police accountability, black self-determination and much more.
Produced by Rosalind McGary of the Los Angeles-based arts organization SEPIA Collective, ICONIC: Black Panther opened at 7 p.m. Friday at the Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave. The exhibit will run until Jan. 6, 2019.
The exhibit made it to Chicago with help from the Rebuild Foundation, founded by artist Theaster Gates. It’s being curated by Tracie D. Hall of Chicago’s Rootwork Gallery.
“The legacy of and impact of the Black Panthers on the South and West Side of Chicago is part of the important history of resilience and radical self-determinism, values that we cherish at the Arts Bank,” Gates said.
Hall said the exhibit was brought to Chicago because “Chicago is essential to understanding the impact of the Party.”
“I don’t think you can tell the story of the impact of the Panthers without bringing Chicago as well as other communities in the Midwest like Milwaukee, Indianapolis into focus,” Hall said. “By the time the party moved to Chicago and began to connect with young and really brilliant activists like Fred Hampton, Mark Clark and others I think the Panther Party really proved that it had not only a radical agenda but a really progressive agenda.”
Stony Island Arts Bank was selected not only for its size but also because of how rooted the venue is in the community the Black Panthers were working to positively impact.
“We were thrilled that Theaster Gates, who is an incredible artist and visionary, would let us have an exhibition at the Stony Island Arts Bank,” Hall said. “It was really important that we be in a space that mirrored that ambition and that vision for black culture and black people.”
Since its’ origin ICONIC: Black Panther has partnered with members of the Black Panther Party including Emory Douglas, the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party, whose artwork has been in every iteration of the exhibit.
“Oakland, Los Angeles and Chicago Panthers have been involved and we couldn’t do this without their OK,” Hall said. “It is not only to support them but it’s also to honor them and honor that work and the spirit of that work. We’re grateful to have those lines of communication open.”
Like the preceding exhibitions, participating artists have agreed to donate a portion of the revenue collected through their sold artworks to a national retirement fund for members of the Black Panther Party, Hall said.
“Members of the Black Panther Party, who because of their activism and because the ways in which the Panthers were perceived as radicals, many of them weren’t necessarily able to go on to get the types of work or get the types of careers that would’ve given them reliable retirement,” Hall said.
The artwork for ICONIC: Black Panther will be comprised almost entirely from local artists whose ages range from early 20s to 70s, Hall said.
“We really want to profile artists and highlight the works of artists that we think reflect the spirit of the Panthers,” Hall said. “There was not an artist that we approached that didn’t immediately say ‘yes,’ which speaks to the way in which we all recognize the impact of the Panthers made on our lives and what we have to pay forward.”
Hall, a Los Angeles native, said she benefited from Panther-run community programs.
“In a lot of ways this is my way of paying back that investment that the Panthers made in my community, [so] that people understand how enduring their legacy really is and the ways in which they impacted policy in ways that we don’t really talk about or give them due credit,” Hall said.
Aside from Friday’s opening at the Arts Bank, the exhibit’s curators are hosting neighborhood events as well.
On Saturday, a free health fair and food giveaway will be held from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. at Stone Temple Baptist Church, 3622 W. Douglas Blvd.
Parties interested in donating should bring canned and non-perishable food items. All food collected will be donated to local food pantries.
On Sunday, a panel highlighting the impact of black women within the Black Panther Party entitled “Her Words: Black Panther Women Speak” will be held at 2:30-4 p.m. at the Stony Island Arts Bank.
Moderated by curator Hall and Tracye A. Matthews of University of Chicago’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture, scheduled speakers include Barbara Easley-Cox, Joan Gray, Ericka Huggins, Wanda Ross and Yasmeen Sutton.
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