Samantha Hill claims there is a cultural renaissance occurring in Chicago’s historic Bronzeville neighborhood. “There is palpable new energy circulating here amongst organizers, educators and residents that isn’t yet defined.” Determined to capture and engage in this revival, for her first solo exhibition at the Hyde Park Art Center, Hill presents “Topographical Depictions of the Bronzeville Renaissance.”
Originally from Philadelphia, Hill has been naturally drawn toward and deeply involved in the cultural activities of the South Side since her arrival in the city ten years ago. She has organized happenings, held residencies and taught art courses at the South Side Community Art Center and Chicago State University. As a social art practitioner, bringing people together and facilitating conversations is at the heart of heart of what she does, and it is through working in these neighborhoods that Hill has been able to get to know people at the forefront of Bronzeville’s new momentum, record their stories and discover the spirit of the neighborhood.
Some of these narratives include the voice of Sherry Williams, founder of the Bronzeville Historical Society. Another one is the story of “God’s Gang,” a break-dancing troupe that transformed into a community activist organization. The stories, which play on speakers in the gallery along with tintype photographs of current residents hanging on clotheslines and other donated ephemera form the substance of the neighborhood’s metaphoric map. This map, constructed slowly over the course of the exhibition and as Hill interviews and talks to more people, becomes more layered and complex over time as more points of view come into the picture.
Visitors to the exhibition are also encouraged to interact with the piece by pasting their own sticky notes onto the walls responding to her work and, in a way, given a chance to connect with Bronzeville’s rich history. They are given a very direct human access point to the neighborhood of today as well as the “Black Metropolis” of Louis Armstrong and Richard Wright, Bronzeville from the 1920s to 1950s booming with business and culture. It was a time soon after the Great Migration, an important moment in African-American history, and an era that inspires the second renaissance.
Hill will be available in the gallery office to chat or answer questions on Saturdays from 11am–3pm. This show takes place in conjunction with “Risk: Empathy, Art and Social Practice,” a series of exhibitions on the topic of the unpredictability of social practice, including Theaster Gates’ Dorchester Projects, 6018North as well as the Columbia College Chicago’s Glass Curtain Gallery. (Shreya Sethi)
Samantha Hill shows at the Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 South Cornell, through May 18.