Photographs of community bike rides outside the Moving Freely exhibit at the Lawndale Pop-Up Spot. Credit: Jonathan Kelley/ The Lawndale Pop-Up Spot

NORTH LAWNDALE — The bicycles on display at a West Side community museum tell a story of racial equity using bikes as a symbol for freedom, movement and mobility justice.

The exhibit, Moving Freely, explores how mobility, freedom of movement and access to transit are connected to racialized social issues like safety, health, environmental justice and unemployment.

Moving Freely is a monthlong exhibition open through June 15 at the Lawndale Pop-Up Spot, a free mini-museum housed in a retrofitted freight container that features art centering on the perspectives of West Side residents. The exhibit is open 1-4 p.m. Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays at the museum at Love Blooms Here Plaza, 3622 W. Douglas Blvd.

The stationary bike at the Moving Freely exhibit can be pedaled to generate electricity to power lights, a projector, and a record player. Credit: Theodore A. Thompson

The interactive exhibit prompts visitors to think about how access to transit and mobility can be empowering to communities. It also looks at how restrictions on the ability to move freely have played a role in generational cycles of injustice, said Tara Ebrahimi of Equiticity, a West Side group that uses cycling as an avenue for racial justice and community building.

“Without fair and just mobility across communities, it affects everything. You can’t have employment opportunities. You can’t have freedom from violence,” Ebrahimi said. “There’s just no way to talk about mobility justice without talking about all these other injustices and inequities that communities like North Lawndale face.”

One component of the exhibit consists of “Wheel of Fortune”-style bike wheels visitors can spin to learn more about how mobility impacts racial equity. Spinning the wheel — called the Cycle of Injustice — reveals to visitors information on topics like transportation infrastructure and policing. By showcasing people’s experiences with mobility justice, the exhibit tells a story of the systemic issues that aggravate many of the problems people in Lawndale struggle with, said Moving Freely curator Mechiya Jamison.

“There is a whole system … behind the reasons why our mobility is being impeded on. The Cycle of Injustice is really zooming in on people’s experiences. So not just facts and statistics, while they matter, but also people’s experiences that need to be heard,” Jamison said.

Another interactive wheel called the Cycle of Justice illustrates community-driven solutions to mobility justice that are happening in North Lawndale and other neighborhoods. Some projects aimed at improving mobility in Lawndale include community bike rides led by groups like Equiticity and Boxing Out Negativity.

Water is frequently used as a symbol for mobility in the exhibit, including on the outside of the Lawndale Pop-Up Spot freight container, which has been painted with images of flowing water.

The duality of water is represented in the exhibit to “an example of how mobility can be weaponized against us,” Jamison said. While water is a source of life, it is also tied to painful chapters in Black history, such as the transatlantic slave trade and the use of fire hoses to attack protesters in the Civil Rights Movement.

Another component of the exhibit is a stationary bike provided by Working Bikes visitors can pedal to generate electricity. The installation powers several other parts of the project, allowing them to listen to music on a record player and view a slideshow projector.

The stationary bike represents how justice is something communities have to create for themselves, and how any individual can make a difference when they understand how systems of power are all intertwined. 

“You can ride on the bike and show that your individual power does connect to a much larger system … their actions can light up all these different parts,” Jamison said.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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