The glitzy address of Roosevelt University’s Gage Gallery—on Michigan Avenue directly across from Grant Park—belies the grim urban reality this show so vividly documents. Altogether, “Not Forgotten” is a powerful immersive experience, featuring dozens of large-scale images, wall text and a heartbreaking spoken-word soundtrack by survivors, city officials and activists. Listen closely as you absorb the images of street memorials. One resident confesses, “the death of a child in front of your house affects you physically.”
The exhibition continues the gallery’s commendable reputation for critical social content. The photographs were taken by multimedia artist Thomas Ferrella, a former emergency medicine physician; Roosevelt professor Anne-Marie Cusac did the investigative field work and documentation. Sensitively curated by gallery founder and director Michael Ensdorf, the images and text work in perfect harmony, each supporting the other, and each capable of standing on their own. Seeing the show will make you more sensitive and knowledgeable about an increasingly conspicuous urban feature.
These temporary tombstones not only commemorate the dead; they pay creative tribute to the grief of the living. The iconography of street memorials includes murals, empty bottles, stuffed animals, plastic flowers, photos, crosses, candles and more. Over time, these impromptu displays take on a life of their own. Nature erases them, they are rebuilt, revisited, repainted, replenished or destroyed by the city or by rivals. Many of the street shrines pictured are for gunshot victims, but others commemorate different tragedies—a bicycler “doored” and run over, a newborn dropped from a high-rise, a man felled by a heart attack.
One also sees memorials here related to recent, infamous Chicago killings, like the promising young model shot in Englewood, and the nine-year-old lured into an alley and murdered. Two-thirds of the homicides in this city go unsolved. Equally chilling is the knowledge that many of these families have suffered not one but several losses. The memorials pictured here are surely the colorful evidence of a remorseless American health crisis. The mercy bestowed on the dead by street memorials—and by this exhibition—is what the victims so sorely lacked in life. (Mark Pohlad)
Through December 3 at Gage Gallery, 18 South Michigan