LINCOLN PARK — Artwork from people formerly or currently incarcerated will be shown during an exhibition that opens next week at the DePaul Art Museum.
The show, “Remaking the Exceptional: Tea, Torture, and Reparations | Chicago to Guantanamo,” will mark 20 years since the opening of the United States’ infamous prison near Guantanamo Bay. It will feature work — including quilts, ceramics, archival materials and drawings — of people who were formerly or are currently incarcerated at Guantanamo and other sites, as well as from abolitionist artists, art groups and activists.
The exhibit will run March 10-Aug. 7, exploring Chicago’s connection to extralegal torture and celebrating “acts of creative resistance” to torture and imprisonment in Guantanamo and Chicago. Featured artists include Mansoor Adayfi, Abdualmalik Abud, Dorothy Burge and Anna Martine Whitehead.
The show was born from Amber Ginsburg and Aaron Hughes, guest curators of an exhibition called the Tea Project, which began in 2009. The Tea Project is a series of installations and performances that aims “to lift up the story of people imprisoned in Guantanamo,” said Hughes, an Iraq war veteran and visiting artist at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
The Chicago connection that’s highlighted in “Remaking the Exceptional” was incorporated in 2016, when Hughes and Ginsburg began tracing how Chicago has ties to torture in Guantanamo.
The Guardian reported in 2015 that Richard Zuley, a Chicago police detective, traveled to Guantanamo in 2002 to teach torture techniques that had been perfected in the Police Department.
And Chicago has its own long history of police abuse: Cmdr. Jon Burge and his “Midnight Crew” of officers tortured and coerced people into false confessions for years in the ’80s and ’90s.
“The police were able to do whatever they wanted to do to us,” Anthony Holmes, a survivor of Chicago police torture, said in a conversation with the exhibit’s curators in 2021. “It’s probably the same thing in Guantanamo Bay. The only difference is where it’s at.”
While the exhibition highlights Chicago’s own role in torture at Guantanamo, it also celebrates the work of Chicago-based activists who have battled police torture and brutality and fought to pass the 2015 Reparations Ordinance for victims of police violence.
Dorothy Burge will have several quilts on display, including two depicting people who were recently released from prison. She’s previously quilted portraits of victims of police violence and white vigilantism, including Trayvon Martin and George Floyd, and sees her work as part of a long African-American tradition.
“I use quilting as part of my activism to raise awareness,” Burge said. “Quilts have always been used in the African American community to send messages. If you look at the Underground Railroad quilts, there were codes that were embedded in the quilts that told people where the safe spots were for them to stop.”
Besides art pieces, the exhibition has a six-part podcast that was released in January, and it will feature performances and workshops.
Whitehead took input from people incarcerated at Stateville Correctional Facility to create dance choreography, which she’ll help perform for “Remaking the Exceptional.”
The show is “really about people who aren’t there,” but who artists are trying to “bring into the room” through paintings, movement and other media, Whitehead said.
Ultimately, the curators hope people will recognize “the profound connection between local struggles for justice and reparations and international struggles for justice and reparations.”
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