September 5 will mark 100 years since Chicago police officers and federal agents raided and pillaged the offices of the Industrial Workers of the World on West Madison Street. The CPD seized everything from political pamphlets to personal love letters as possible evidence of the Wobblies’ attempts to sabotage American participation in World War I. In leftist circles, the fishing expedition for “evidence” of treasonous activities was seen as a pretext for dismantling an organization that was successfully unionizing workers around the country and threatening government and business interests. And the police were, as always, serving to protect those interests.
For the members of For the People Artists Collective the IWW raid of 1917 is a point of departure for an examination of a century of police violence in Chicago. FTP is seeking artists’ proposals through September 3 for a monthlong show called “Do Not Resist? 100 Years of Police Violence in Chicago.” The exhibition is slated to open January 12 at the Hairpin Arts Center in Logan Square with satellite exhibits at Uri-Eichen Gallery in Pilsen, and Roman Susan Gallery in Rogers Park. FTP is encouraging self-taught artists and black artists in particular to submit proposals, and the organization has created a time line of incidents of Chicago police violence for potential subjects or sources of inspiration; artwork related to events not included in the time line is also welcome.
The goal of the show is “to extend the conversations around police violence in our city,” says Monica Trinidad, one of the cofounders of the collective. “Chicago has been in the headlines around Jon Burge torture and Homan Square, but we need to make the connections a bit deeper and go beyond these isolated incidents, to engage with Chicago’s history of police violence in order to understand what’s led us to our present circumstances. We really want to address the roots of police violence, how violence is inherent in policing.” The organizers also intend for “Do Not Resist?” to uplift and honor the victims of police violence and their families.
Trinidad hopes that by curating artistic representations of key moments in Chicago’s history of police brutality—whether through painting, photography, video installations, performance art, poetry, or sculpture—audiences will be better able to understand the ways in which police protection for some is built on violence against others, and might eventually imagine “new structures for community safety that aren’t reliant on policing anymore.”
“Do Not Resist?” extends the work of abolitionist artists and organizers who for years have sparked community conversations on alternatives to policing. Last year a group of activists, including members of FTP, camped out for more than a month on a vacant lot across the street from CPD’s Homan Square facility to demonstrate abolitionist ideas in practice.
FTP was formed in December 2015 by artists who were also active in community-organizing efforts for racial and social justice. Since then they’ve created visuals for four large campaigns, including #ByeAnita, which was established to vote Cook County state’s attorney Anita Alvarez out of office. FTP also collaborates with social-justice-oriented organizations that seek visual material, like banners or leaflets, to augment their efforts. The collective is encouraging artists to consider participating in the upcoming exhibition, even if contributors have never created work on a political topic before or have had a hard time connecting their artistic practice with their activism.
Ruby Pinto, an FTP member who also works for the IWW, can relate to the challenge. While she’s made artwork for various organizations that approach FTP for help, the art she makes on her own—mostly glass and metal ornaments and jewelry—doesn’t feel as politically engaged.
“I’m gonna really try to make space to reflect on whatever incident I will make art about,” Pinto says. “I’m gonna have to sit with it for a while and really feel it before I know how to communicate that through art.” She encourages others, who might doubt their ability to create work informed by such grim subject matter, to do plenty of reading and research and just “try to connect with the loss of life that occurred and try to uplift the people who were left behind by the loss of the person to police violence.”
In addition to chronicling past instances of police violence, “Do Not Resist?” will include panel discussions with people who’ve either survived or organized against police brutality. Sections of the show will also feature artwork dedicated to resistance and action. “We want to give [audiences] something to leave with,” Trinidad says, “what people can do to challenge police violence in Chicago.”