A Hyde Park mural, coming and going


Perched atop her scaffolding, paintbrush in hand, Olivia Gude leans toward her mural until her face is mere inches away from a weather-beaten portrait of a little girl. “What was that supposed to be?” She takes a step back, then looks again. Another step back. “Oh! That’s her hand!” she says, then zooms back in to continue painting. “It’s just so different when you look at it up close.”

While a passing glance at Gude’s 800-square-foot mural “Where We Come From…Where We’re Going” (1992) on the Metra underpass at 56th Street and Lake Park Avenue might suggest that everything is in order, a closer look reveals the effects of 16 years of Chicago weather.

So, with the help of funding from the Chicago Public Art Group and the National Endowment for the Arts, Gude, MFA’82, is touching up her painting, which captures part of Hyde Park’s oral history. In 1991 Gude stood at the same intersection, armed with a tape recorder and a camera, and asked passersby two questions: Where are you going? Where are you coming from? The mural combines portraits of these residents and excerpts from their answers, which ranged from annoyed to polite, simple to profound.

The questions behind the mural are similar to those that propel much of Gude’s work. Hyde Park was relatively diverse, but does occupying the same geographic space signify a real community? Were people reaching out and communicating beyond their racial or generational groups? The mural created a dialogue between the people who called Hyde Park home.

Back at that intersection for several weeks this summer, Gude also plans to update it with new images. “Oh yes,” she says, waving a paint-smeared hand toward the blank walls across the tracks. “I’m going to start interviewing people again and add a whole new section. You know, new times, new times….”

Looks like that dialogue with the neighborhood is ongoing.

Luke Fiedler, ’10

July 21, 2009