PI Original Ellyn Fortino Monday February 16th, 2015, 1:20am

High Schoolers Pay Tribute To Chicago Gun Violence Victims Through Art

Nearly 200 pieces of student artwork honoring young people killed by gun violence in the city is being showcased at River North's Josef Glimer Gallery as part of the "Chicago Angels Project" exhibition, which had its opening reception Thursday evening. Progress Illinois was there for the event.

Students from Chicago's Uplift Community High School are calling attention to the city's gun violence epidemic through art.

Nearly 200 pieces of student artwork commemorating young people killed by gun violence is being showcased at River North's Josef Glimer Gallery as part of the "Chicago Angels Project" exhibition, which had its opening reception Thursday evening.

The exhibition, presented by ThinkArt and The Arts Palette, also featured several pieces of artwork from professional Chicago artists that hung alongside the student's work.

About 200 Uptlift students created printed images, using the linoleum block printmaking method, memorializing young shooting victims who died in 2011 and 2013. The students made the prints in Uplift teacher Laura Mullkoff's art courses in 2012 and 2014.

As part of the art project, Mullkoff had students do background research online about the shooting victims and the circumstances surrounding their deaths. The students then carved a drawing in honor of the victim into linoleum blocks before rolling paint onto them and making prints.

When asked how students responded to the assignment, Mullkoff said, "They enjoyed doing it," though at the start it was "sobering."

"Some of them told me right at the beginning, 'This is depressing. Why are we doing this?' But once they started doing it, I think they realized that it was something important for the families of the people who have been killed and for themselves, because it's something they deal with on an everyday basis," she said.

At Thursday's opening reception, Uplift students showcased single prints as well as a collages of the memorials they created. Some of the Uptown high schoolers performed spoken word poetry. The student artwork, which will be on display through February 27, is being sold for $50 to $100, with the proceeds going to Uplift and the non-profit Alternative Schools Network, CeaseFire and the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence.

"This is a wall of infamy for the entire city of Chicago," said Laurie Glenn, of the "art and policy salon" ThinkArt, while standing in front of the wall lined with student prints. "We are culpable for the deaths of these children. We allow this to happen in our neighborhoods every single day. I want to say to all the children and youth that have died and are represented on this wall that you are not forgotten."

Uplift sophomore Deangel Groves, 15, made a collage of several different prints honoring 6-month-old Jonylah Watkins, who died in May 2013 after being hit by a bullet while in a vehicle with her father in Woodlawn.

"Killing a young girl that hasn't reached a point in life where she can learn her ABCs and 123s, she didn't get to live her life," Groves said. "So with her not being able to live her life, it's like, that could have been me when I was 6-months old ... This [exhibition] does actually bring out a message to people and gang members about where you're aiming and who you're aiming at."

Uplift junior Jameale Pickett, 17, created prints memorializing Christopher Lattin Jr., a 15 year-old who died in January 2013 after being shot 17 times in West Englewood while walking to his home. Lattin was a student at Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy in the Ashburn neighborhood.

"I just wanted to display that a student's life is more important than everything, because that's the moment when you're learning.  Learning should never stop," said Pickett, whose artwork was sold within the first 15 minutes of the gallery's opening.

Pickett said the process of researching the shooting victims and creating the artwork was an emotional experience for the students.

"There were actually people that cried in class because of this project, because they knew the people they were doing it on," he said. "It shows devotion. And with your artwork, you always want to show devotion, which is very spectacular for us to do, especially in that class."

One student piece that stood out to Glenn was a print honoring 17-year-old Dantril Brown, who was fatally shot inside an Englewood fast food restaurant in December 2011.

"Can you imagine? You're in a restaurant minding your own business and suddenly you're dead," Glenn said. "This stands out both because of the language and the experience, and also it is a beautiful piece of art. The student artist who did this, it has a true Matisse-like quality to it. The eyes on this piece, you can see him looking off in the distance wondering what happened to me?"

Marvin Tate was one of the established Chicago artists who participated in the exhibition. He displayed his piece titled, "School Yard of Broken Dreams," a diorama depicting a scene of a school yard. The piece, inspired by Tate's childhood growing up on Chicago's West Side, is made out of found objects and assembled in a dresser drawer.

Tate said he was moved by the student's artwork and the exhibition, which was packed with a racially-diverse group of people.

"I think it's very powerful," he said, adding that providing a platform for students to make their voices heard "gives these kids hope, as ambiguous as that sounds and cliche."

Being here "in this gallery, a place they don't frequent, and I'm sure the people who run this place don't normally run into people like them -- it's like an urban collision," Tate added.

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