Artists Use Nude Drawings to Spark Action Against Gang Violence

By Patty Wetli | Monday, February 13, 2012

The "em.body.peace" exhibit includes figurative paintings and drawings. Credit: Susan Estes

OK, now that we’ve got your attention….

While a bit more risque than your typical neighborhood event, on Tuesday, Feb. 14, the Northcenter Neighborhood Association‘s ArtHouse group will present em.body.peace, an exhibit of figurative drawings and paintings (ie, nudes), the sale of which will raise money for a Ceasefire mural. Held at 4021 N. Ravenswood Ave., 6-10 p.m., the event also features wine and hors d’oeuvres, a silent auction and performance art.

If the Northcenter neighborhood seems an unlikely location for an awareness campaign against gang violence, much less on Valentine’s Day, well that’s sort of the point. “I see it as perfect for Valentine’s. It’s showing the love for your city, and for humanity,” says Julie Hobert, president of the Northcenter Neighborhood Association NNA.

“As we sit there and draw, we talk and philosophize,” Hobert says of the ArtHouse drawing group, which meets weekly at her home. The subject recently turned to violence in Chicago and the pervasive problem of gangs. As one might expect from a group of artists, they decided to mount a show of their work to encourage neighborhood action. (In addition to Hobert, ArtHouse members Susan Estes and Paul Guerra are donating drawings; there will be non-ArtHouse participants as well.) The group does have some experience with community organizing: The first, and only other, ArtHouse exhibit, designed to raise funds for affordable housing, ultimately resulted in the formation of NNA.

With em.body.peace, the goal is to create a shared sense of responsibility for violence in Chicago. “We are part of a city,” explains Hobert. Describing a beating she witnessed while ferrying her daughter to a soccer facility on the South Side, Hobert says, “I consider that part of my community. This violence is not in Iraq. It’s here, in our back yard. This is a societal problem. You can drive by with blinders or do something. I think really the first step is awareness and just noticing.”

Heavily influenced by the writings of Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, Hobert also created a series of performance art pieces as part of em.body.peace. “I’m going out on a total limb,” she says of the nude performances, which are intended to represent shock and apathy, ownership, and hope. (Note: em.body.peace is strictly 21 and older.)

“I think of gangs as having this ownership thing,” Hobert says, evidenced by the constant tagging of buildings to mark turf. “As a neighborhood, do you reclaim that? Do you own this gang?” A Ceasefire-designed mural, painted within Northcenter (the 47th Ward office is working to identify potential locations), would signal the community putting a stake in the ground and also bring the ArtHouse vision full circle — art encouraging art.

While certainly intended to be provocative, the figurative art of em.body.peace is more than an attention-grabber. Using nudes demonstrates how clothing can be an armor, according to Hobert. “It shows how fragile and vulnerable we are, and how much we’re all alike. We’re all just flesh and bones.”

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  • Radhika Sharma

    It was a wonderful event.  I applaud ArtHouse for being part of the movement for communities to reclaim their public spaces, acknowledge our shared power and fragility, and bring the vital voices of artists to the violence prevention movement.  I look forward to watching the mural-painting process and hope that local youth can contribute.  Murals and a mobile peace art installation are being planned in Albany Park as well.  Let’s stay connected.  Radhika Sharma Gordon, Albany Park resident and community health and safety educator.  rsharmagordon@gmail.com

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