WICKER PARK — Lajuana Lampkins never thought she’d exhibit her art in a gallery.
For years, Lampkins has sold paintings on street corners in Wicker Park, where she’s become a neighborhood fixture known for risqué and unique creations.
On Saturday, Lampkins will display her work in a new gallery space in Bucktown for the first time. The show starts 7:30 p.m. at 2000 N. Milwaukee Ave.
The show is being organized by local artists and residents who have befriended Lampkins.
“It’s just so exciting, I can’t even put it into words,” she said.
Lampkins is living at a hotel on the Northwest Side. She’s hoping proceeds from the show’s sales will help her move into a permanent apartment and support family members.
“I’m hoping to use that to find a studio and get out of this here hotel,” she said. “I’m just trying to survive and help my daughter. She is disabled.”
The exhibit comes after decades of hardship and pain.
In the early 1980s, Lampkins was convicted of murder and sentenced to 60 years in prison. Lampkins said she was wrongfully accused and coerced by police into confessing.
It was in prison where Lampkins started drawing, painting and writing poetry.
“Eventually, I was doing posters. I was doing stages. I was doing full prison walls in the day room,” she said.
Lampkins served 30 years of her sentence and was released in 2012. Her son, Sir Gerald Akbar, a local street artist, encouraged her to continue painting and to sell her art around Chicago, including in Wicker Park.
One of the organizers of Saturday’s show is Jazmine Arnold, who met Lampkins in the neighborhood in 2018 and fell in love with her paintings.
Many of Arnold’s friends have artwork by Lampkins in their homes.
“She’s kind of just become a heart, or kind of a staple of my experience in Chicago,” Arnold said. “Her art is truly very unique. It’s so cool, and it’s something I’ve never seen before.”
Arnold said she bonded with Lampkins this summer after having dinner with a relative, who also had been in prison, for the first time in years.
“It just really, really, really got to me, and I just connected with her and on a totally different level because I had just come from such an emotional experience with my [family member]. And then I was just talking to her right afterwards,” she said.
The experience inspired Arnold to put together a showcase for Lampkins to help her find permanent housing.
“I was like, ‘We should just do a show for you,'” Arnold said. “‘I’ve been to DIY shows and they raise money for all sorts of things. Why don’t we just raise money for you?’ And I started talking to all my friends, and they were all on board, and all of them decided to do a show.”
Lampkins is dedicating Saturday’s show to her son, Prince Akbar, a local poet who performed under the name JusRhymz. In 2010, Calumet City police shot and killed him.
The Chicago Tribune reported at the time that police said Akbar “was shot by an officer after seriously beating two officers,” after police tried to Taser him.
The gallery show, Lampkins said, is a way to “honor him, myself and my family.”
Organizers also plan to have an after-show with musical performances, with all proceeds going directly to Lampkins.
For Arnold, the fundraiser isn’t just about highlighting Lampkins’ art, but also her life experience and worldview.
“I think it’s so important for her story to be told and to be heard because it’s just another example of the injustices of our system and how people just fall through the cracks,” Arnold said.
“She’s such an important person, and her artwork is so loud, and she has such a strong voice. I think it’s so important to give her a platform.”
More details on the after-show can be found on the Lajuana Pop-Up Instagram account.
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