BEVERLY — At first glance, the chapel that will be front and center in Beverly Arts Center's main gallery later this month looks almost quaint, covered in a picnic cloth and surrounded by Ball mason jars.
The picnic cloth represents the perception — albeit false — held by many black Americans that the word "picnic" originated with crowds gathering to witness lynchings, said Cheatham, a 30-year resident of Beverly and Morgan Park.
And the jars represent the foundation of the church and are filled with items such as bottle caps that might have been left behind after lynchings. Other jars contain cotton balls, a voting stub and other items of significance to Cheatham's underlying message.
This chapel designed by Jomo Cheatham of Beverly is meant to make the audience think about how churchgoers often participated or did nothing to stop lynchings in the post-Civil War era, the artist said. [DNAinfo/Howard A. Ludwig]
Cheatham is one of three artists who will participate in "A Constant Struggle," a show set to debut at 2 p.m. April 23 in the main gallery of the community art center at 2407 W. 111th St. in Morgan Park.
Dorothy Straughter of Beverly will also have her quilts on display. Straughter curated the show with Sal Campbell of the Beverly Area Arts Alliance. Her quilts also offer images of lynchings as well as depictions of the Great Migration, the Underground Railroad, negrobilia and more.
Straughter has also invited Dawn Liddicoatt to display her pottery at the upcoming show. These pots illustrate the racial disparity of fatal police shootings by state. To do so, name tags of the dead are strategically placed on each piece.
"We all know that racism exists. But we want to talk about the different layers and levels that racism exists in our culture," Campbell said Thursday. "These are artists in Beverly doing powerful work, and we want their voices to be heard."
Ball mason jars represent the foundation of the chapel and are filled with items such as bottle caps that might have been left behind after lynchings, according to artist Jomo Cheatham of Beverly. Other jars contain cotton balls, a voting stub and other items of significance to his underlying message. [DNAinfo/Howard A. Ludwig]
Cheatham said his artwork commonly challenges his audience with social and political commentary. For example, one of his paintings on display at "The Mullet Show" last summer in Morgan Park features two blindfolded men wearing suits.
The men are both crawling into a bathtub. The painting intends to spark a discussion of the lead-contaminated drinking water in Flint, Mich. So the periodic table symbol for lead is subtly found in the painting and playing cards spell out the latitude and longitude of the city.
"I'm often looking at the disproportionate influence that corporate structures have on the general public," said Cheatham, who also works as a substitute teacher for Chicago Public Schools as well as with the DuSable Museum of African American History and the Art Institute of Chicago.
His latest artistic series includes the chapel and is called, "Reparations for Interruptions." Inspired by the guilty verdict in O.J. Simpon's civil case, Cheatham asked himself if the families of lynch victims also deserve compensation.
"If you terrorize a community in a certain way, it affects their ability to earn, and how they can make a living for their family," Cheatham said, adding the financial impact of lynching is thus compounded over the years.
Jomo Cheatham of Beverly shows other projects that are part of his overall collection called, "Reparations for Interruptions." [DNAinfo/Howard A. Ludwig]
He believes those liable for such long-term affects might include cities and towns that turned a blind eye to lynching. The families of individuals pictured in historic photographs of lynchings might carry some of burden too along with church congregations and law enforcement involved, Cheatham said.
"When I look at lynching historically in the United States, I look at how spectators would gather around for these events," said Cheatham, who personally believes in reparations but said his work is meant to merely introduce the concept to others.
The opening of the exhibit will include music as well as the artists discussing their work. The show runs through June 18, and a panel discussion is being considered for the closing, Campbell said. She also hopes to involve local schools in a dialog sparked by the artwork.
"There is going to be a wide range of reactions," Campbell said. "But art is not always meant to be pretty. It is meant to make you think."
This model of a chapel is intentionally covered in a picnic cloth pattern, said Jomo Cheatham of Beverly. The pattern represents the perception — albeit false — held by many black Americans that the word "picnic" originated with crowds gathering to witness lynchings, he said. [DNAinfo/Howard A. Ludwig]
Cheatham is excited to be part of such an exchange. He believes his work is not intentionally provocative, but he isn't afraid to make people uncomfortable either.
"Those that want to join that conversation, we welcome them," Cheatham said. "Hopefully some people will ask some deeper, more meaningful questions."
Campbell agreed adding that the show is not meant to be un-American or anti-police. Rather, she said the idea is to promote a discussion on the history of racism and its effects on modern culture and our collective psyche.
"We feel this show is so important right now. We believe that by providing a safe space for dialog, we are fighting a rising tide of dehumanization in our culture," she said.