Hyde Park’s two newest public art pieces peer at each other from underneath the underpass at 47th and Lake Park Boulevard. Though their style and media differ, they both speak to the experience of living in Hyde Park and Kenwood. The Chicago Public Art Group organized the creation of each mural in 2008 and 2009. The earlier piece, titled Instinctive Movements, is rendered in acrylic and spray paint and sits on the south side of the underpass.
A mix of realistic scenes and abstract shapes, its bright colors bring to mind the warmer times of year. There are numerous depictions of people in motion: stepping off the Metra, riding the bus to Hyde Park, biking, etc. It’s no wonder. 47th Street and Lake Park is a Metra Station, a highway exit frequented by buses, and an entry point to the lakefront bike path. In those respects, it’s very much a portal into Hyde Park and Kenwood.
Beyond present day scenes, the mural also depicts Jean Baptist DuSable and Gwendolyn Brooks, two historic figures that, despite living in vastly different time periods, both took up residency in Chicago during their lives.
This historical thread is picked up by Reaching Back, Moving Forward, Lest We Forget the Song of 47th Street, the second public art work, created in 2009. The mosaic includes photographs of historical moments and figures in Hyde Park and Kenwood’s history. As one moves east, the photographs become more recent. What begins as a picture of a crowded movie theater becomes a civil rights riot, then an image of Harold Washington, and finally a photograph of Barack and Michelle Obama, Kenwood’s most famous residents. Swirling around the photos are various words and phrases which reference identity, ancestry, and the passing on of history. These ideas are further emphasized by the layout and imagery of the mosaic itself. As the mosaic progresses, it becomes narrower until it comes to a point. From there, it grows wider again and the pattern repeats, like a series of interlocking diamonds. This layout suggests the passing on of history. As one era comes to an end, its legacy is picked up by the next generation and carried on. At the end of the mosaic a large hand further stresses this idea. Its outstretched fingers suggest a figurative passing on of tradition. Still, not everything can be remembered or preserved. The blank, concrete spaces created by the diamond pattern seem to suggest historical gaps. As years wear on, some parts of history are inevitably forgotten.
From a visual standpoint, the mosaic is dazzling. Traveling to Hyde Park by car, I always stare at the mosaic in awe while coming in from the highway. Headlights reflect off the tiny pieces of glass and illuminate the bright colors. Together, the two murals at 47th and Lake Park are the perfect introduction to the neighborhoods. They tell the past and depict the present, instilling pride in the residents to not only learn the area’s history, but to help build its future.
This is the third article in a five part series concerning public art in Hyde Park. The other articles can be found here.