Site Specific Memories
In the series Site Specific Memories (2021-), A Story that Need to be Told (2021-), Object and Subjective Painting (2018-),and Whitewashed: All of Mankind (2017-), I investigate the past and the present of the Strangers Home Missionary Baptist Church in Cabrini Green. The architecture itself represents the transformation of the community from mainly Italian-American to African-American families. In 1972, Chicago based muralist William Walker painted All of Mankind on the façade of the church. Walker is known for creating the Wall of Respect (1967), which started the community mural movement in the US.
The mural All of Mankind reflects the national movement for human and civil rights during the sixties and seventies and symbolizes the unity of the human race with four intertwined figures —Jesus, Dr. King, Malcolm X, and Anne Frank. The building was sold in 2015 to a new private owner. On December 10th, 2015, the owner whitewashed the mural while a small group was trying to raise funding in order to preserve it. After the demolition of the Cabrini Green public housing, there no longer was a community interested in preserving the mural.
In this project, I juxtapose found photographs of All of Mankind with film photographs taken of the current building on the site. I employ the photograph to create a subjective experience of history. I collapse the contemporary and historical moment on the two-dimensional surface. Through the interplay of grainy black-and-white photographs with chromatic positive film, I attempt to layer time and space.
In investigating the history of the mural All of Mankind, I pose the questions—How to preserve an oral history? How to create inclusive space by examining, as well, a counter narrative? what is the socio-political implication and impact of whitewashing? Who has the authority to preserve and destroy history? What is revealed and what is concealed on the walls of the church?
How to preserve an oral history? How to create inclusive space by examining, as well, a counter narrative?
Here I am standing in front of the Strangers Home Missionary Baptist Church in Cabrini Green, remembering the stories surrounding Bill Walker’s mural All of Mankind (1972) that used to be here. I cannot stop loving this mural because it is personal, bringing back memories of my collecting these stories from people.
On March 26th, 2018, the former Chicago Public Art Group director showed me a digital photo archive of the mural before it was whitewashed. I could see the details of the mural and more, how it represented the yearning for unity of race and gender in the community. The mural reflects the national movement for human and civil rights during the sixties and seventies and symbolizes the unity of the human race with four intertwined figures—Jesus, Dr. King, Malcolm X, and Anne Frank. The building was sold in 2015 to a new private owner. On December 10th, 2015, the previous owner whitewashed the mural while a small group was trying to raise funding in order to preserve it. I have been conducting field trips here since 2017. I discovered that someone scraped the whitewashed mural to see the imagery underneath. I also tried to see underneath, but only found layers of paint skin peeling from the wall.
It is a collective memory; this disappeared image marks an important oral history that more need to see and hear. It is a history that is polyvocal—in a way it is authentic, genuine, and a shared story. There is no boundary in accessing the story and it does not exclude anybody.
Who owns a certain cultural narrative? How is the story being told and by whom? The muralist Bill Walker emphasized that he was not a cultural nationalist, “I am for unification of all of mankind. I am not into whitism, not into blackism, not into damn-anythinism. I am into humanism.”
I question the idea of visibility and invisibility—who gets honored and remembered in history and who gets forgotten, while looking at the facade of the church, and in my studio making art in response to the mural’s history. The body of work became a generative tool to think about preserving history and diversity. All of Mankind is a good reminder to me and everybody to be humble, curious, and attentive.