The Work: Fifteen Years of Free Write Through Icons, Imagery, and Poetry presents the work of students who are currently or were recently detained in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (CCJTDC). The exhibition is the fourth annual exhibition of Free Write student work hosted by Chicago Art Department. Since 2000, Free Write has facilitated creative writing workshops, one-on-one literacy tutoring, and arts programming for youth in the CCJTDC.
The Work: Fifteen Years of Free Write Through Icons, Imagery, and Poetry will occupy both Chicago Art Department’s east and the west gallery spaces. The east gallery will feature a retrospective of fifteen years of student work organized by visual tropes. The west gallery will feature work created during the 2014-2015 school year including projections of run cycle animations, a listening station featuring recordings of students reading their poetry, and print publications of student writing and art. There will also be live performances by Free Write teaching artists and Free Write alumni.
Quite often, our students come to us with iconographic illustrations such as prayer hands, roses with thorns, and “Laugh Now, Cry Later” masks. By artistically representing and re-imagining these icons, our incarcerated students directly connect themselves to these strong cultural tropes that are resonating with them during a time of crisis. The presentation of these icons seeks to show our students’ connection to their communities and their rich artistic heritages, as well as the resilience, hope, and optimism found through connecting to something larger than them. In the broader context, the exhibition interrogates the role of iconography, relating to the canons of religious, cultural, and pop culture.
Gallery attendees will be given the opportunity to write notes and record video responses to the artists, which will be brought back to the incarcerated students after the show.
The title of the exhibition, The Work, is drawn from conversations between Free Write staff about our daily efforts inside the CCJTDC. The work, as we often describe it, is to facilitate intellectual, artistic, and socio-emotional growth so that the youth we serve can become the narrators of their own stories and authors of their own futures. The work is co-creating with our students a classroom community, the principles of which extend out into their lives when they leave detention, as well as our own. The work is in the risk-taking that our students do as they try new artistic techniques, literacy skills, and performance opportunities. The work is, alongside the youth we serve, studying the socio-economic conditions that create and perpetuate places like the CCJTDC so that we can best work within, around, away from, and ultimately without them. All of this, as presented through this exhibition, is The Work.
Free Write student art and writing provides a foundation and framework for community dialogue on issues of juvenile justice, family engagement, conflict resolution, unfair sentencing and much more. Therefore, Free Write and Chicago Art Department is inviting community allies to co-sponsor special events in the gallery. Individuals or organizations that would like to host an event in the gallery while the show is open, please contact Mathilda de Dios - mathilda@freewritejailarts
The Work: Fifteen Years of Free Write Through Icons, Imagery, and Poetry is curated by Chicago Art Department resident Chelsea Ross along with Free Write staff members. Free Write Jail Arts and Literacy Program is a program of Chicago Lights.
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