Weinberg/Newton Gallery is partnering with South Side youth arts non-profit SkyART and Arts + Public Life, which fosters neighborhood vibrancy through the arts on the South Side of Chicago, to present Can you see me? Across three galleries, artwork by incarcerated young people, contemporary artists and arts-justice organizations will explore themes of ascendance, innocence and freedom. The exhibition aims not only to highlight the humanity and potential of young people affected by the juvenile justice system, but also to explore new aspirational possibilities for how art can be a tool of justice and healing. Extensive public programming will bring together diverse audiences and practitioners to create important dialogue and accessibility for new communities.
Visitors will have the opportunity to interact with and contribute to the exhibition, and will leave with a lasting impression of humanity in place of criminality, perseverance in place of violence and hope in place of despair.
The three exhibitions include:
• The primary Can you see me? exhibition at Weinberg/Newton Gallery will open on Oct. 14, with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m., and will remain on view until Dec. 17, 2022
• Arts + Public Life presenting FREEDOM SPACE, Oct. 21 through Dec. 16, 2022, with the opening reception taking place Oct. 21 from 5 to 7 p.m.
• SkyART presenting Can you see me? Envisioning the future at their flagship studio space in South Chicago (3026 E 91st St.) on view from Oct. 28 through Dec. 17, 2022, with an opening reception taking place on Oct. 28 from 4 to 7 p.m.
Can you see me? aims to bring people together using art as a catalyst to prompt restorative and healing conversations in order to imagine a future where all children are innocent, free and valued. This exhibition will provide a small example of a world in which young people are elevated as experts in their own experiences, alongside practitioners and contemporary artists; where people who may disagree can find common ground; and where the justice system rights historic wrongs instead of perpetuating the trauma, oppression and systemic racism reflected in prisons and jails throughout the United States.
The exhibition originated from SkyART’s Just-Us program, which provides weekly open studio-style art therapy sessions for incarcerated youth. Across all three sites, the exhibition features large-scale paintings made over the course of several months at the Illinois Youth Center-Chicago (IYC-Chicago), a male medium-security Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) youth facility located on the west side of Chicago. The paintings, which provided the initial inspiration and foundation for Can you see me?, were created by incarcerated youth in collaboration with SkyART staff.
“We felt that it was important to share these works, but we didn’t anticipate the amount of excitement that this project would create. With so much support from other organizations, foundations and individuals, the project came to life in a way that we hadn’t even imagined,” said SkyART Director of Programs, Devon VanHouten-Maldonado.
Beginning in October, the exhibition at Weinberg/Newton Gallery will showcase large-scale collaborative paintings by young artists in SkyART’s Just-Us Program and will exemplify the themes of flying and ascendance, imagining new worlds and creating fuller, more nuanced portraits of justice-involved youth. An interactive installation by Jim Duignan will explore the idea of escape, freedom and imagining new pathways. A large-scale multimedia work by Ebony G. Patterson asks us to examine the innocence of boyhood and play. A mixed media piece by Cheryl Pope captures the voices and experiences of incarcerated young people. An installation by Alejandro T. Acierto unpacks ties between education and prison labor systems via archival images. A multi-media installation and a publication by Kirsten Leenaars and Circles & Ciphers, brings to life the writings and stories of incarcerated young people and creates spaces for restorative justice through public events. Mexico City-based therapeutic arts organization Arte Pro will present a video portal between Chicago and Mexico, featuring youth from Arte Pro and SkyART’s SkyWAY program, examining both the secondary effects of incarceration on young people and prevention. Finally, a multimedia installation presented by Contextos, highlighting stories written by system impacted Authors in Chicago and El Salvador, will feature original poetry, memoirs, collages and digital animations reflecting on their experiences while incorporating an interactive writing and art activity.
In a poem by a currently incarcerated young artist titled, Can you see me?, from which the exhibition borrows its name, the author asks, “Can you save me from this damage that I can’t erase? I ain’t never felt this way before, until I put you in my arms. Can you see me?” The poem and the exhibition asks us to see young people affected by the juvenile justice system as children who have been failed by a system that all too often traumatizes Black and Brown youth.
Arts + Public Life will present FREEDOM SPACE, curated by Scheherazade Tillet in collaboration with Black girl artist and activist from A Long Walk Home, opening on October 21, 2022 and running through December 16, 2022. FREEDOM SPACE evolved from the public installations by curator and co-founder Tillet and A Long Walk Home created over an extensive period of time, reclaiming public sites where Black girls and young women have experienced violence. The Freedom Space will be a healing and restorative space for the community created from interactive objects and artworks that center Black girls’ play. Artists featured in FREEDOM SPACE include Luvuyo Equiano Nyawose, the South Side Home Movie Project (SSHMP), Brooklyn Ryan, Jada Bovia, Girls Behind The Lens and Shukurah Floyd. “If Black women and girls were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression” – Combahee River Collective.
At SkyART’s flagship studio space in South Chicago, Can you see me? Envisioning the Future will be on view from October 28, 2022 through December 17, 2022. The third installment of Can you see me? at SkyART strives to bridge the gap between creative expression and justice. In addition to their work as teachers, social workers and administrators, SkyART’s community is also made up of artists, writers and curators who are deeply passionate about providing the youth they serve with free, affirming and open spaces to feel empowered and free to express themselves. Each young artist is a complex person filled with fears, anxieties, hopes and dreams. Can you see me? includes work by SkyART community members who are directly impacted by incarceration and whose lived experience informs their work with young people. In a conversation with SkyART youth, practicing educators, mentors and artists will examine what is possible in a future that centers justice for youth. Artists exhibiting at SkyART include Arinique Allen, Basia Brown, Spanish Brown, Andrea Coleman, Guillermo “Junior” Diaz, Crystal “Nikki” Diaz, Jenny Perez, Michael Rangel, Jennifer Torwudzo-Stroh and Ellen Tritschler.
Can you see me? is curated by Devon VanHouten-Maldonado, SkyART’s Director of Programs and Kasia Houlihan, Director of Weinberg/Newton Gallery. Independent curator Rikki Byrd serves as a Curatorial Advisor for the exhibition.
● A Panel discussion on youth incarceration, alternatives, and effects on families and communities will take place at Weinberg/Newton Gallery on November 4, 2022 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. with special guest speakers Ally Bain, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Illinois; Jakki Alexander, Assistant Superintendent of Programs, IYC Warrenville - Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, and Emony Tate, a community organizer and youth services provider with Blocks Together, Chicago; plus Denzel Burke and Destine Phillips, co-founders of R.E.A.L Youth Initiative with lived experiences of incarceration as a juvenile.
● A Panel discussion on the healing power of art and effects of trauma on young people will take place at Weinberg/Newton Gallery on November 11, 2022 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. with special guest speakers SkyART founder, CEO and art therapist, Sarah Ward (ATR); clinical social worker, therapist and professor at UChicago's Crown School of Social Work specializing in youth development and trauma, John Sykes (MSW, LCSW), and Deputy Executive Director of Zealous and formerly incarcerated artist, Demetrius Titus.
● A Panel discussion about youth incarceration in the Americas will take place at Weinberg/Newton Gallery on November 17, 2022 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. with special guest speakers Luz Pro, Founder of Arte Pro, an organization that works with children born in incarceration in Mexico; Eduardo Enrique Navarrete Murcia, a formerly incarcerated educator and writer who works with ConTextos, an organization that works with incarcerated authors in El Salvador and Chicago, and Juan Carlos Quirarte who established the first safehouse for youth escaping organized crime in Mexico and has led many other projects focusing on prevention and reentry from incarceration.
● The world premiere of a new feature-length film by artist Kirsten Leenaars and Circles & Ciphers will take place at Weinberg/Newton Gallery on December 9, 2022 from 6 to 8 p.m. followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers.
Additional programming will include youth workshops, professional development for educators and practitioners and field trips from school and community groups. Circles & Ciphers will lead restorative justice freestyle circles at all three locations and school groups will be welcomed for field trips and letter writing workshops.
Hours and Appointments
Weinberg Newton Gallery: Thursday & Friday, 1-5 p.m.; Saturday, 12-4 p.m.
Exhibitions are free and open to the public. Reservations are encouraged and can be made via Tock, here. Small educational groups and classes are welcome for guided tours which are available upon request. If interested in an appointment outside of gallery hours, please email email@example.com.
Masks are required upon entry. More information regarding Weinberg/Newton Gallery’s visitor policies, appointment scheduling, current COVID-19 precautions and safety protocol can be found here.