ROGERS PARK — The newest artwork to adorn a Red Line viaduct in Rogers Park pays homage to Black victims of police violence.
Under the Red Line tracks at Glenwood and Farwell avenues sits the “neighborhood memorial for victims of police violence.” At the memorial, colorful posters list the names of hundreds of people to die at the hands of police since 2015 throughout the country.
The project was created by artist groups PO Box Collective and Cheap Art For Freedom. The artists enlisted the help of neighbors, with weekly events through July where residents could add names to the mural.
Eventually, neighbors ended up making the memorial their own — which was the goal of the project, said Carly Guerrero, a member of PO Box Collective.
“People just started bringing us pictures they printed from home, bringing framed pictures,” Guerrero said. “We never asked anyone to make an altar, but we came back one day and there was one. The reaction has been so positive.”
PO Box Collective seeks to make art more accessible to those lacking the financial means or formal training. When the pandemic hit Chicago in March, the collective couldn’t hold workshops in its space at 6900 N. Glenwood Ave. So the group began thinking of how to take their art projects into the public, Guerrero said.
In late May, the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked nationwide protests against racist violence. Like other artists throughout the country, PO Box Collective knew it wanted to address the movement in a public-facing work of art.
The collective teamed up with Cheap Art For Freedom and artist Matthias Regan, who also was seeking to memorialize Floyd and pay tribute to the movement springing from his death.
Regan, an assistant visiting professor at North Central College in Naperville, has been researching the police killings of Black Americans since 2014, he wrote on his web site. He used public databases to begin recording the names of those lost to police violence since 2015.
The names were written on “we miss you” cards, which have been plastered under the Red Line viaduct.
Some of the people memorialized as part of the mural are household names, their deaths at the hands of police becoming national news. Those include Laquan McDonald, Breonna Taylor, Freddie Gray and Alton Sterling. Plenty others are names that would not register with most members of the public.
On every Sunday during July, the artists added posters to the memorial and encouraged the public to join in. Other art, including Black Lives Matter posters, sprung up on the wall.
“Some people chose not to interact, but most stopped to talk and some stayed to help us wheat paste the names to the memorial wall,” Regan wrote.
Candles, flower vases and other items were brought to the site of the memorial. Though there has been some opposition to the memorial in the form of vandalism and the calling of police, neighbors have stepped up to maintain the work of art, Guerrero said.
At one point, a vandal or group of vandals came to the memorial and smashed the glass candles and vases. They also burned a Black-Brown-Queer pride flag that was hanging at the site.
But within a day or two, the mess was picked up and the items replaced by neighbors, including the flag, Guerrero said.
Police were also called in early July to the memorial and threatened some participants with tickets, according to Guerrero and Regan. No tickets were issued, and the memorial has only grown since the interaction, they said.
The artist collectives don’t have plan to immediately add to the mural, since it has taken over much of the wall space under the viaduct.
The mural is now in the hands of the public, and neighbors are free to add to it and provide upkeep to the memorial as they see fit, Guerrero said.
“We want the neighborhood to think of it as their own memorial and for it to stay up as long as reasonably possible,” she said.
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