More than 100 people attended the Visible/Invisible exhibition opening at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center. Pictured here are (from left) curators Fran Joy, Indira Johnson and Lisa Degliatoni.

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Violence currently pervades our culture: from nightly news on major outlets to social media posts, we see incidents related to violence every day. But what about acts of violence less considered by the public, ones that we rarely think about?

The Visible/Invisible exhibition, now on view at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, aims to address both the visible and the invisible. It showcases artists’ response to violence in various media, bringing new perspectives to issues that have received widespread attention while simultaneously shedding light on topics lacking prior media coverage.

The exhibit features 65 works from 45 artists hailing from Chicago and its suburbs. Jointly organized by a trio of curators – Lisa Degliantoni, Indira Johnson and Fran Joy – the exhibit will be on view through March 18.

When the organizers first explored the concept of violence, most of their thoughts concentrated on gun violence. However, they soon realized that violence encompassed so much more than what mainstream media chose to portray. Violence feeds through the media, but also builds up through silence. In particular, societal structures often act as invisible promoters of violence.

“We’re talking about how the structures we’re in, from schools to churches to jobs, play a part in keeping the violence-first approach we live in,” says Degliantoni, founder and executive director of Evanston Made.

The wide range of works include pieces not only about bullying and body positivity, but also art centering on drone warfare, an invisible act of violence for many since few people have had such experiences in the United States.

Finding beauty in the darkness

Despite the general perception of violence as dark and menacing, the exhibition turned out to be more beautiful than the curators imagined. For example, Stephen Murphy’s photos of Kenosha, Wis., in the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting highlight resilience and compassion in the face of violence; community members painted boarded up storefronts with messages of love, transforming plain wooden barriers into colorful messages building connections.

Most artists communicate pain and suffering that they experienced through their works of art.

“I’m always really impressed by people who use nonviolent tactics as a method to seek justice and deal with the painful and ridiculous things that happen to people of color in the United States,” says Degliantoni, who hopes that the artists’ honesty and openness would inspire viewers.

This vulnerability could show the general public that they have a sense of agency and are able to share what happened to them as well.

The curators originally wanted the exhibition to take place during the year of kindness in 2020, but then put it off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The gears started spinning again in late 2021. After soliciting art from Chicago and its surrounding suburbs, the curators spent a long time handpicking artworks they wanted to showcase in the exhibit and making sure that all the pieces would work with each other. They then worked together to oversee the process of piecing together information about the works and placing the pieces in desired spots at Noyes.

For the three curators, the exhibit represented a new challenge. Degliantoni has usually curated exhibits centering on a single artist. Johnson has never been so engaged in blocking artwork in a space, since art galleries generally take on the work of positioning pieces of art.

Visible/Invisible also offers a different experience in that it engages the community in more ways than the exhibit itself.

The curators look forward to a community conversation related to the exhibit, which will explore issues specific to our own communities and the work done to alleviate them. The conversation will feature three panelists who will speak about topics such as mental health, healthcare and social work.

“I always think that if you’re calling a project a community project, the community needs to be very involved in shaping the project,” says Johnson, who is mainly an artist and an educator. Her work is featured in the exhibit as well.

The community conversation will be held on March 3, and a hands-on art workshop geared toward a younger audience will be held on March 5.

Visit http://www.indirajohnson.com/visible-invisible.html for more information.

Daphne Yao

Daphne Yao is a freelance reporter for the Evanston RoundTable; she is also studying journalism at Northwestern University. Reach out and follow her on Twitter @daphnecyao.

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