DOWNTOWN — As a lifelong Chicagoan, artist Makeba Kedem-DuBose has always basked in the sun’s fleeting presence and savored its warmth before our famously long winters.
“Here Comes The Sun: In My Own Image,” Kedem-DuBose’s solo exhibit opening Monday at the Forshey Gallery in The Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington Ave., showcases 150 sun images on wood and paper. They serve as forms of artificial light to alleviate depression.
“I have seasonal affective disorder, and I was super depressed during the winter of 2018. I just started doing sun drawings, and it helped alleviate the depression,” Kedem-DuBose said. “I was creating my own sunlight.”
The sun drawings, which feature myriad faces and colors peeking out of their rays, originally formed the installation and multimedia performance piece “Artificial Light: 365 Days of Sun.” It was displayed at artist cooperative Threewalls, 231 S. La Salle St. Unit 2100, in 2018. Kedem-DuBose has expanded the theme to include large wood pieces for her current show.
“It was always supposed to be an ongoing project, addressing how our mental states are affected by the sun,” she said.
The Chicago Temple show will highlight suns as well as bright scenes of flowers and plants and religious iconography, like a scene where Kedem-DuBose weaves together images of the brown face of a woman cradling a child embedded with flowers, leaves and circular figures for an updated Madonna and child. Another work displays large daisies over a collage of brown, clasped hands and multi-colored geometric shapes. These themes represent what has given the artist happiness and solace during her life.
As a multidisciplinary artist whose career has spanned over 30 years, Kedem-DuBose has crafted a catalog of work that closely reflects her life, touching on issues of spirituality, family and women.
“Spirituality informs my work on many levels; it’s the strongest foundation,” she said. “You see it directly with sacred imagery and indirectly with the hopeful tone of my treatment of depression and mental issues with sun imagery. I even mix purple in my black paint; it’s the highest vibratory color. I want my work to bring joy to people.”
Kedem-DuBose’s firm spiritual base was established while growing up on the West Side. She attended Church of the Holy Family, 1080 W. Roosevelt Road, one of the oldest Catholic churches in Chicago. The church influenced her faith as well as her art.
“I was mesmerized by the stained glass windows and noticed that there were no people of color pictured,” she said. “The priest explained that it was a reflection of the times, but those windows always stayed with me.”
The Bronzeville Artist Loft resident often features Black women in her art in answer to their absence in those religious artworks. And color saturates her pieces with a multilayered, puzzle-like treatment.
“My works have a stained glass quality, but I don’t do it purposefully; it just shows up,” she said.
Kedem-DuBose’s work consistently appears all over the city. Her triptych “Tangled Mass” is part of the Field Museum’s “Covid Collection,” highlighting cultural responses to the pandemic and movements for social and racial justice. Her work also appears in the Colossal Dogs mural in Logan Square Dog Park and in group shows like the “Stitched Time” exhibit at Oliva Gallery, 3816 W. Armitage Ave., which opened Oct. 14 and closed Saturday.
The artist said the show features “my mixed-media sculpture. It’s handmade fiber mache with bits of metal, organic matter, and seed pods. I place them on bottles and fill them with soil in water. They’re like time capsules, and in hard times you can grow something. The heads are made from recycled plastic water jugs sculpted with heat and staples. They are molded with copper; beads; pieces of red, white and blue fabric; and vintage newspapers. I’ll include black wrought iron keys on the outside of the bottles.”
Kedem-DuBose regards her sculptures as mythical guides.
“They represent ancestors,” she said. “All these things they are made from are from the past, present and future. They are like guardians who hold that knowledge. I think of them as bestowing knowledge to future people.”
For those looking for a dose of sunlight in the face of Chicago’s impending winter, “Here Comes The Sun: In My Own Image” opens Monday at the Forshey Galley at The Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington St. A reception will be held noon-2 p.m. Dec. 3. The exhibit runs until Jan. 5.
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