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Where Are You Going? Hyde Park Mural Asks Big Questions

By Laura M. Browning in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 19, 2010 3:20PM

The first blossoms of Spring mean we’ve reached the time of the year when it’s too warm to spend a free afternoon indoors and too chilly to head for the beach. But it’s perfect weather to explore some of Chicago’s outdoor public art. Over the next few weeks, we’ll take you to street murals from Hyde Park to Pilsen to Edgewater, as well as indoors (the bad weather’s not over yet, folks) to introduce you to art around town. This week, we headed down to Hyde Park, where the Metra viaduct walls provide ample canvas for murals of every persuasion—mirrored mosaics, social critiques from the 1970s, and newly installed temporary art exhibits beneath the tracks.

On the Metra viaduct at 56th Street and Stony Island Ave, a recently refurbished 1992 mural caught our attention. Unlike the brightly colored narrative-style mural popularized by New Deal/WPA murals, this one depicts about a dozen epic-sized people floating on a muted bluish-gray background, each surrounded by quotations answering the questions now painted above them: Where Did You Come From? Where Are You Going?

Where We Come From… Where We’re Going is the brainchild of University of Illinois - Chicago professor Olivia Gude, who has been creating public art for more than two decades. In 1992, she and an assistant stood outside the 56th Street Metra with a tape recorder, asking people about their lives, and painting the results on the viaduct wall. The mural captures the diversity of Hyde Park with responses from recent immigrants, students, and long-time neighborhood residents.

Artistically, this isn’t our favorite mural, but it’s one of the most interactive. We wonder where these people are now, almost 20 years later, and with not even first names given, it’s left to the imagination whether the economist graduated and got a job, whether a guy was able to open his own business, how a woman made it back to Gary, Indiana. The simple questions sometimes elicited big answers that captured the joys of being a student, the sorrows of broken marriages, the struggles of dealing with racism.

You might be surprised to find out what you have in common with some of these painted people. As one of the women said, “Where am I going? I’m still trying to find out. If things are not going the way you want, you have to make it better or just go on from there.”

To learn more about Chicago street murals like this one, Chicago Public Art Group has an excellent Web site and map.