BRONZEVILLE — A new art installation at 39th Street and Michigan Avenue features New Deal-era photos as it reflects on Bronzeville’s “commonly held memories.”
“Stations,” completed by local artist Chris Devins, displays images taken by photographer Russell Lee on a single morning in 1941. Another Devins piece, titled “Sunday Morning,” uses Lee’s photos from the same session; it’s visible on the exterior of the Mariano’s at 39th Street and King Drive.
Devins describes himself as “a wheatpaste artist; I’m just taking it to the extreme.”
For “Stations,” rather than make a statement of his own, he used urban planning skills to complement and reflect the atmosphere of Bronzeville.
“I also do original work, but as an urban planner, I’m less interested in self-expression as I am in things that reinforce an area’s identity,” Devins said.
The included images were all taken within a few blocks of the ValStor facility that hosts “Stations.”
“What I love about ‘Stations’ is that it’s not famous people,” he said. “It reflects the identity of average, everyday Bronzeville residents, as opposed to a lot of the other stuff I do in Bronzeville which has a lot of famous people.”
The ten panels, installed in April, were undamaged during the uprisings following Minneapolis police officers’ killing of George Floyd.
The photos “reflect the time when [Bronzeville] was pretty much the only community that African Americans could live in in the city,” Devins said. “None of the images were damaged or vandalized because they were in the spirit of the movement — a movement of people protesting against oppression.”
From AfriCOBRA and the South Side Community Arts Center, to the Wall of Respect and the Mural Movement, South Siders have documented a side of town that “hasn’t been given as much attention as it should,” Devins said.
“Artists have done this work of showing African Americans on the South Side as part of the fabric of Chicago,” he said. “Stations” is “really a Chicago project, not just the South Side. It’s an important part of overall Chicago.”
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