Up-and-coming Oak Park artist Hasani Cannon is making his creative presence felt in the community during Black History Month.
His art is currently on display inside Forest Park National Bank, 7348 Madison St. in Forest Park. He also designed a special edition Black History Month coffee bag for Dark Matter Coffee, which has partnered with YEMBA Inc., a nonprofit that serves Oak Park-area young people.
Cannon, 20, graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School in 2019 and participated in YEMBA as a middle school student. He has also been involved in the Oak Park Area Arts Council’s Off the Wall Program, a summer youth employment program that pairs young people with master artists to create mosaic and bricolage murals in Oak Park and surrounding communities, such as neighboring Austin.
“Hasani was always very visual, inquisitive and thoughtful,” said Edward Redd, YEMBA’s founder. “Every time I saw him in the class, he was always drawing something. At the end of our season, we always have a commencement ceremony. I gave each kid a gift that represented them and at the time I gave him some color pencils and a pad because I knew he was very talented and art was something he was very passionate about.”
Camille Wilson White, executive director of the Oak Park Area Arts Council, which curates the exhibition space inside Forest Park National Bank, said she recalls Hasani furiously pedaling his bike on South Boulevard in order to get to work on time.
White said Cannon was instrumental in the creation of several murals around town, including the Black Lives Matter mural installed on Scoville Avenue and the mural on the Randolph side of the West Cook YMCA, 255 S. Marion St.
White said the Arts Council operates three galleries in the area. Due to the pandemic, the one inside Forest Park National Bank is the only one currently open. This past summer, she said, the Off the Wall program took a hiatus due to the pandemic, but she’s hopeful the program can return this summer and that she can hire Cannon to work as a senior apprentice.
“Hasani has grown into a tremendous arts leader in the community,” White said. “I’m looking forward to having him back.”
Cannon, who currently attends the University of Illinois Springfield, said he honed his skills at OPRF, evolving from an aspiring comic book artist and superhero fan to a more serious and astute fine artist.
“One of the biggest things that really showed me I can actually do this for a living was my high school art teacher [Tracy Van Duinen], who recognized my skills at the time,” he said.
“He really opened my eyes to seeing art as art, and recognizing the characteristics and fundamentals of it. He reintroduced me to the fundamentals of color pencils. He also showed me techniques and videos to watch to enhance my skills.”
The exhibition in Forest Park and the Dark Matter Coffee bag feature Cannon’s evolving perspective, one grounded in African representation. The essential theme of the work, he said, is rooted in Afrocentrism, a perspective he gained through studying the history of Western art and what it leaves out.
“I often see that African art really isn’t represented as I’d like it to be, and oftentimes the Western perspective of art is usually taken as the quintessential perspective,” he said.
“I wanted my art to reflect the past and my experiences growing up. I was surrounded by a lot of African culture, African masks. My mother is an African dancer and I do African drumming,” he explained. “So the culture has always been prevalent in my life.”
But as much as he culls from the past, Cannon also steeps his work in contemporaneity, namely the personalities around him. One of his works, “The Concealed One,” illustrates the face of Cannon’s brother, which is concealed by an Afrocentric mask.
“The mask is covering up most of his face, but that mask represents how I view him in a way,” he said. “He’s very concealed, keeps a lot of stuff to himself, but there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s just his personality. In fact, there’s a regal sense about him.”
Cannon said his artwork is made from recycled materials, such as plastic wrappers and cardboard. The process mirrors his general philosophy, which is rooted in the idea of regeneration and place.
“I’m very passionate about the arts and about imparting what I learn and receive,” he said. “I want to give back to people and enhance whatever community I’m part of.”
While standing in the lobby on Monday, Donald Offerman, the senior vice president at Forest Park National Bank and former OPRF High School superintendent, raved about the color Cannon’s work brings to the facility, especially on an overcast winter day.
“We’re delighted to have the art on display here,” Offerman said. “It’s consistent with our values and with the celebration of Black History Month.”
You can view Cannon’s artwork during Forest Park National Bank’s lobby hours: Monday and Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Wednesday, 1 to 5 p.m.; and Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The exhibition will run through the months of February and March.
To pre-order the YEMBA/Dark Coffee special edition Black History Month coffee bag featuring Cannon’s work, visit yemba-inc.org. All proceeds will go to YEMBA.