If you're just passing through the Pillsbury House, at first you might not notice the art installation by Catherine Kennedy presented by Obsidian Art Center. Interspersed throughout the lobby of the community center, Kennedy's work is something to come upon as you approach the vending machine, or glance at the fake trees that have always been in the lobby but now suddenly are adorned with part of the installation. Kennedy's highly interactive pieces engage the audience, not in an overt way, but in an almost playful exchange with viewers.
In "The Baggage We Carry," Kennedy takes elder refugee women from war torn Liberia as her subject. The artist is a native of Liberia, but fled the country because of the war and grew up in neighboring Ivory Coast. A press release for the show at Obsidian states that much of the exhibit was inspired by Kennedy's grandmother, who was deeply rooted in the experiences of the refugee women.
Using film installation, sculpture, photography, and interactive pieces to create a memory--an homage to these women and their struggle--Kennedy creates stunning images. Much of the work is abstract. Photographs and film blur, with sculptural pieces assembled with words, getting at a guttural feeling rather than a concrete thought.
One piece that that is particularly stunning is called Body Bowl. It consists of a white platform in the middle of Pillsbury House's lobby with a red circle on the top surface, which is filled with shell-like objects. Next to the red circle read the words "People will always do what they have to do to survive or cope with the change." In the piece, Kennedy finds hope amongst the violence, as if no matter how much horror human beings endure, there is always the creativity and love of the human spirit that floats above it all.
The shell-like objects appear in numerous places around the lobby, including in the fake trees, staples of Pillsbury House's décor which have been incorporated into the show.
Another high impact piece is Migration (Revolving Series) in which small wax rectangles with relief sculptures of faces dangle from tangles of red rope. Near the main sculptural fixture are words written on two white boards, including "change," "decision," "who," "replaced," "people," and "argument." Kennedy evokes, through the images and words, the incredible strength of the women who were displaced from their homes.
There are a number of photographs in the exhibition, characterized by a lack of coherence. The photographs have subjects; a woman's foot in a sandal, for instance, or a facial expression, but these images become abstract shapes, as if mere recollections of another life.
Finally, Kennedy utilizes playful social interaction. Viewers are asked to take "credit cards" from a plastic bucket, and use the them in between the community center's vending machines in a space that is shielded by curtains. By engaging the viewer to participate in the exhibit, Kennedy is asking us to not view the subject matter as some far off distant problem, but one that impacts us all if we choose not to ignore it.
"The Baggage We Carry," by Catherine Kennedy, is presented by the Obsidian Arts Center
and can be seen at Pillsbury House, at 3501 Chicago Avenue South.