Summer solstice and socially-conscious art

Opinion: Columns

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By Stan West

Sun and fun seem to inspire the summer solstice and socially-conscious art. At least that was the feeling of an Oak Park visual artist who might blush when referred to as "the godmother of women-of-color painters in Oak Park's Harrison Street Art District." 

I'm of course referring to the talented and provocative Tia Jones, who trail-blazed for black female artists in this area in the '90s with her first gallery, continued that trend with her newest gallery just a few doors down from the original one. But oh no, the soft-spoken, short-haired painter did not stop there. She inspired two other artists — Martha Wade, a biracial painter and daughter of Forest Park-based financial guru Chris Everett, and Reisha Williams, a stiletto-heeled, self-described "sexy clown" portrait photographer and painter. 

They invited fellow Oak Park painter and human rights activist Tye Johnson to join the party on this summer solstice eve event at Galleryna!19 at 19 Harrison Street near the Austin/Oak Park border. 

It was the hit of Harrison Street's monthly 3rd Friday get-together. Dozens poured in and out of the cozy, creative space that featured Reisha's "Hela" painting and her Sexy Clown photo book, Martha's trio of colorful abstracts, and Tye's lovely landscapes. Well-wishers were seen sipping Merlot and nibbling on gourmet cheese and crackers while listening to stories about the need to further diversify Oak Park's art scene.

"We both moved to Oak Park to raise our children in this diverse, multicultural milieu," Martha said. "We met at a spot in Pilsen; then Tia mentioned this cool space and we joined forces to not just showcase our own works but also that of emerging artists like birthday-girl Tye, who graduated with me from OPRF High School in '96. We're going to make a difference and have fun along the way."

"When people come to visit us, I often put a paint brush in front of them," Reisha said. "Once they got so into it, I let them paint over one of my works. It might have made it better," she mused.

Down the road at Facet's Film Center at the first festival of indigenous cinema, as this reporter cruised local artistic intersections for messages and meaning, I viewed a couple of documentaries by Tuwe Huni Kuin, a member of the Xavante nation, dressed in full regalia. He's a filmmaker, forest agent and youth leader from the Association of the Indigenous People of the River Humaita in the western Amazon region near the Brazil/Peru border, called Acre State. Speaking to this reporter in Portuguese and English before the crowded screening, he explained, "My film is about the people of this region who are isolated and exploited by loggers and miners."

Brazil also had a cultural presence at Solstice Samba in Chicago's trendy warehouse/loft district, which on Saturday night, was the hottest party in town. The invitation-only ticket cost a couple hundred. It yielded arguably the coolest socially-conscious artists of all stripes in town as well as soothing samba music, delicious eatables and lovely sips of summer drinks. 

"Hostess with the mostest" Marguerite Horberg explained this rooftop fundraiser was designed to raise awareness about the western Amazonian indigenous people's movement while also raising funds for the new Hothouse nightclub she'll manage.

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