BEFORE: His largest work to day, Kerry James Marshall’s mural is being installed at the Chicago Cultural Center in Garland Court. | Courtesy City of Chicago, Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE)


GENERATIONS OF WOMEN have made groundbreaking contributions to Chicago’s arts and culture scene. A new mural by painter Kerry James Marshall pays tribute to 20 trailblazers, nine of them African American, including artist Margaret Burroughs (1915-2010), artist Barbara Jones-Hogu, media icon Oprah Winfrey, poet Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000), and actress Cheryl Lynn Bruce, the artist’s wife.

Marshall’s mural is being installed at the Chicago Cultural Center. A longstanding nexus of culture in the city, the center presents a robust schedule of local, regional, national and international visual arts, musical and performing arts programming. (Currently, it is hosting the Chicago Architecture Biennial.) The mural project will grace the center’s Garland Court façade, between Washington and Randolph Streets.

“When I was asked to design a mural for narrow Garland Court, it was immediately clear to me that the site had to be ‘opened up’ in some way,” Marshall said in a statement. “My solution was a park-like view with a bright sun and stand of trees to bring light and green space to the location while at the same time honoring the mission of the building as the hub of artistic activity in Chicago. My idea was to make of the trees a kind of Forest Rushmore acknowledging the contribution of 20 women who’ve worked to shape the cultural landscape of the city, past and present.”

“My idea was to make of the trees a kind of Forest Rushmore acknowledging the contribution of 20 women who’ve worked to shape the cultural landscape of the city, past and present.” — Kerry James Marshall

One of the most acclaimed and talented painters working today, Chicago-based Marshall has long said that he paints unapologetically black figures, using black paint on large-scale canvases in order to push the Western canon of art history in a more diverse and representational direction. Images of black people and the black experience should hang in museums alongside the so-called “masters,” Marshall contends. “Mastry,” his 35-year retrospective debuted at MCA Chicago last year and the critically acclaimed show traveled to the Met Breuer in New York and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles earlier this year.


AFTER: Kerry James Marshall’s likens his mural to a Mount Rushmore-style tribute to 20 women who have influenced Chicago’s cultural arts landscape. | Courtesy City of Chicago, Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE)


MEASURING 132 by 100 FEET, the mural at the Chicago Cultural Center is Marshall’s largest work to date. Women who have shaped the arts in Chicago are represented. Burroughs, an artist, art teacher, and co-founder of the South Side Community Art Center, established Chicago’s DuSable Museum of African American History in 1961, with her own collection of artifacts. Jones-Hogu is a co-founder of AfriCOBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists), the Chicago collective of Africa American artists founded in 1968 emphasizing black empowerment and artistic self determination. Bruce, an actress and director who is married to Marshall, co-founded, with Goodman Theatre, a Youth Drama Workshop for ‘tween age residents of Dearborn Homes in Bronzeville.

Chicago has designated 2017 the Year of Public Art. Work on the mural began today and will continue throughout October as part of the city’s monthlong Public Art Festival. Murals of Acceptance, whose mission is “to bring art to all people in a free public setting,” is funding the project.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said: “Chicago is recognized across the country and around the world as an epicenter of innovative art, architecture and design. Kerry James Marshall’s new mural on the iconic Chicago Cultural Center will be a strong addition to Chicago’s public art portfolio and a fitting commemoration of Chicago’s Year of Public Art.”

The City of Chicago provided the following list of women who will be portrayed in the mural:

Suzanne Ghez, Director and Chief Curator for nearly 40 years, The Renaissance Society
Barbara Gaines, Founder and Artistic Director, Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Jacqueline Russell, Founder and Artistic Director, Chicago Children’s Theatre
Ruth Page, Dancer, Choreographer and Founder, Ruth Page Center for the Arts
Lois Weisberg, Longest-serving Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs
Maggie Daley, Longest-serving First Lady of the City of Chicago
Jackie Taylor, Founder and CEO, Black Ensemble Theater
Monica Haslip, Founder and Executive Director, Little Black Pearl
Abena Joan Brown, Founder, eta Creative Arts Foundation
Margaret Burroughs, Founder, DuSable Museum of African American History
Harriet Monroe, Founder, Poetry Magazine
Cheryl Lynn Bruce, Co-founder, Goodman Theatre / Dearborn Homes Youth Drama Workshop
Sandra Delgado, Founding Ensemble Member, Collaboraction
Jane Saks,, Founding Director of the Ellen Stone Belic Institute and Project&
Barbara Jones-Hogu, Founding Member, AFRICOBRA
Gwendolyn Brooks, Literary Icon
Sandra Cisneros, Literary Icon
Achy Obejas, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist
Oprah Winfrey, Cultural Icon
Joan Gray, Dancer and Longtime President of Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago


Recently released, “Kerry James Marshall” is part of Phaidon’s Contemporary Artists series and features a comprehensive overview of the artist’s career and work, and includes a conversation between Marshall and artist Charles Gaines. The cloth-covered catalog “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry” was published to accompany the exhibition and includes essays by the curators and writings by Marshall on a range of topics, from his Rythm Mastr comic series to artists Mickalene Thomas and Horace Pippin. An extensive interview with Marshall by curator appears in the exhibition catalog “Painting and Other Stuff.” “Kerry James Marshall: Look See” coincided with the artists’s first exhibition with David Zwirner gallery in London in 2014.


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