DePaul Art Museum Showcases Powerful Work of Chicago Artist and Activist Barbara Jones-Hogu

The DePaul Art Museum presents the first solo museum exhibition by Barbara Jones-Hogu (1938-2017) who was a Chicago-based artist, filmmaker and educator. The exhibition, Barbara Jones-Hogu: Resist, Relate, Unite 1968-1975,  features over 20 works on paper including screenprints, woodcuts, etchings and lithographs. Jones-Hogu was at the center of the African-American arts scene during the 1960s in Chicago. As a member of the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC), she helped paint the Wall of Respect on Chicago’s South Side in 1967. Paying tribute to more than 50 African-American figures, the project is regarded as the first collective street mural in the United States. In 1968, the year after contributing to the legendary mural, Jones-Hogu helped co-found AfriCOBRA, an artist collective. Initially called COBRA, then African COBRA, the group settled on the name  AfriCOBRA, which stands for African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists. The collective focused on powerful and uplifting images of African-Americans. Barbara Jones-Hogu, Barbara Jones-Hogu, Unite (First State),  1969. Screenprint. © Barbara Jones-Hogu, Courtesy Lusenhop Fine Art. This exhibition includes her work from 1968-1975, during which Jones-Hogu was most active in AfriCOBRA and engaged in community arts and organizing. The events of 1968 — the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy as well as the violent events at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago had a strong impact on her worldview and are reflected in her art. Her prints are visually complex and her subject matter focuses on the need for solidarity in the African-American community, preserving the family, and also on African-American women in the liberation movement. One of Jones-Hogu’s most famous works that is on display is a screenprint on paper titled Unite.  She created this work in 1971 and it features several African-Americans with their fists raised in the air. The word “unite” is repeated and rendered graphically. A print of Unite is in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Versions of Unite are also in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. In each one of her works, Jones-Hogu creates compelling social statements through her creation of strong characters and her vibrant use of colors. Racial strife and the oppression of African-Americans in the US are a central focus in her works. A good example of this is in her three untitled lithographs — Jones plays with images of the American flag where she substitutes the white stars with hooded Ku Klux Klan members — making a powerful statement that white supremacy is woven into the fabric of American ideology. Also in these same lithographs, she shows the impact of racism by weaving patterns of skeletons and African-American males as she alludes to centuries of racial violence. Barbara Jones-Hogu, Barbara Jones-Hogu,  Relate to Your Heritage, 1970. Screenprint. © Barbara Jones-Hogu, Courtesy Lusenhop Fine Art. Another strong image is To Be Free  where the central figure is a woman and on her forehead reads the title phrase, “To Be Free.” Also in this same work, the artist incorporates a positive message that reads, “We must protect our community. Come together to learn to defend us.” Through the use of text in this work, Jones-Hogu acknowledges not only the oppression of her community, but also provides guidance for action and empowerment. In Relate To Your Heritage,  Jones-Hogu addresses the importance of expressing one’s culture. In this print, she depicts several women with their hair natural or wrapped in fabric, while some have designs painted on their faces. According to the wall text, Jones-Hogu once stated, “During the 70s, everyone in my circle related to imitating or creating African fashionable attire.” In a print titled Nation Time, Jones-Hogu envisions members of different gangs united under one role model to combat oppression. In this work, there is a procession of men wearing berets while facing a single leader with an abstract image of the American flag in the background. In Be Your Brother’s Keeper, she uses different shapes and symbols as she reflects on the tumultuous 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Barbara Jones-Hogu, Barbara Jones-Hogu, Untitled, 1969. Screenprint. © Barbara Jones-Hogu, Courtesy Lusenhop Fine Art. Also on display are drawings from her sketchbooks. The illustrations help give the viewer insight into her creative process — she often rendered her images in pencil before determining how she would add details and color to her work. This compelling exhibition reveals how Barbara Jones-Hogu was committed to creating positive images to inspire and uplift the African-American community. Her art also acted as a powerful advocate in promoting racial equality, building community and celebrating cultural identity. To learn more about the art and artists of AfriCOBRA, watch this video. Barbara Jones-Hogu: Resist, Relate, Unite 1968-1975  will run through March 25. The DePaul Art Museum is located at 935 W. Fullerton Ave. Gallery hours are Wednesday- Thursday 11 am-7 pm, Friday 11 am-5 pm, and Saturday and Sunday 12 pm-5 pm. Admission is free. For more information, you can call the museum at 773-325-7506 or visit its website.
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Thomas Wawzenek