When people speak of the Englewood neighborhood in Chicago, they rarely mention art, culture, walking trails, or sustainable food. Anton Seals, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Grow, Greater Englewood is working to change that. With the Monumental Tour, an outdoor installation featuring the works of acclaimed artist, Hank Willis Thomas, and Arthur Jafa, Anton Seals hopes this latest project continues to lift and empower the Englewood community.
On display until the end of August, Hank Williams Thomas, “All Power to All People” will be located in Englewood Square at 5801 S. Halsted and Arthur Jafa’s “Big Wheel” will be in Bronzeville at the Blanc Gallery at 4445 S. Martin Luther King Jr., Drive. The Monumental Tour is a national tour that brings iconic monuments across the United States for the purposes of advancing the demand for racial equity.
Hank Willis Thomas’ All Power to All People is a provocative artwork combining the Afro pick and the Black Power salute, both icons of Black identity and empowerment. At approximately 28 feet tall, the work stands as a symbol of community, strength, perseverance, comradeship, and belonging. The sculpture’s title references a legendary Black Panther Party slogan—its arrival to Chicago, where the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party was headquartered, is a celebration of Chicago’s contribution to civic engagement and the advancement of social justice. All Power to All People is illustrative of the artist’s longstanding investigation into the role public art plays in shaping collective discourse and societal values.
“Art has always been the dialogue of revolution, pushing urgent issues to the forefront of culture,” said Marsha Reid, Director of Kindred Arts. “We believe these monumental symbols of identity and empowerment, by Thomas and Jafa, have a critical role to play in our historical moment in time.”
Arthur Jafa’s Big Wheel is a spacious, yearning, and open-ended installation comprising four gargantuan, seven-foot tires originally made for monster trucks. Each is laced with a mesh of iron chain; in lieu of hubcaps, abstract medallion sculptures are 3-D printed from melted chains. Like industrial chakras, they manifest Jafa’s obsession with the culture of monster vehicles that has fascinated him since his Mississippi childhood. The heavy manufacturing evokes America’s economic changes, notably the deindustrialization and transition to the service economy that Jafa’s generation watched unfold and that dashed so many Black middle-class aspirations. The installation features a sound component consisting of a loop of Teddy Pendergrass ballads that emit from ﬂoor speakers. The songs are as much an authentic product of late-industrial America as are the tires and gantry.
“Wide Awakes Chicago’s intention is to respect the value of Black spaces by placing the artists’ works directly within the sight of residents from the Bronzeville and Englewood communities,” said Wide Awakes Chicago member, Mario Smith. “The Chicago leg of The Monumental Tour will also spark dialogue and reintroduce some of Chicago’s ﬁnest visual artists, DJs, and musicians to the city as we begin to reopen.”
Established in 2014, Grow Greater Englewood works to build a community in which all people can live safe, happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives, now and into the future. Grow Greater Englewood is a social enterprise that works with residents and developers to create sustainable, food economies and green businesses to empower residents to create wellness and wealth. Anton Seals spoke about the importance of the Monumental Tour in the Englewood community saying, “when this opportunity came, we wanted to be able to toy with this notion of what does it mean, to have black spaces. So, this becomes an opportunity. We started in the farmers market there on Halsted, which used to be a big vacant lot. There is beauty in our own community, and we just do not want to talk about it, we must demonstrate it. In addition, we have a farm, we are building with Chicago architecture biennial site as well. There will be a plaza area that we are in the middle of constructing that will be on the other side near Halsted. So, there is a lot that is going to be synergized. We thought this all power to all people would be a good conversation starter for drawing attention to what does it mean to have black spaces”?
He continued saying, “with the Monumental Tour just having these black artists of note display their pieces in our communities, that is significant. These artists sell their pieces for millions of dollars, and they are on display around the world but for them, they said, yeah that is nice but what does that do for the black aesthetic? That is our responsibility, but it is also a mirror back to the community. What is it that we really want and what is already here and how do we connect those dots? That is where people who are weavers, like me, come in. I am a weaver. I am a leader, but I am also a weaver. I like to weave and bring and create platforms for others and institutions because that is the only way that we are going to survive”.
Those interested in learning more about the Monumental Tour can visit the exhibit virtually at www.monumentaltour.org or in-person from a motor vehicle. For more information on Grow Greater Englewood visit www.growgreaterenglewood.org.
Danielle Sanders is a writer and journalist living in Chicago. Find her on social media @DanieSanders20.