Color Me South Side

New mural at Bronzeville Mariano’s helps community reclaim history

By Arnab Mondal
Medill Reports

A new mural in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago’s South Side is inspiring the black community to come together to reclaim their history and re-establish their connections with the neighborhood. The mural, located at the Mariano’s store in Bronzeville, is the brainchild of Chicago-born muralist Dorian Sylvain.

“This mural is called ‘Color Me South Side,’ and it’s inspired by the trailblazing artists, musicians and performers that I grew up with on the south side of Chicago, such as the AACM, which is the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians,” Sylvain said. “Their mission as an organization was to free themselves of the constraints of musical genres, and they really wanted to discover and explore the idea of free music and free sound.”

The primary mission of Mariano’s in Bronzeville was to alleviate the food desert in the neighborhood. Now, the grocery store is promoting the rich cultural history of the South Side.

The mural portrays stencil graffiti of figures from the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, like pianist Ann Ward, composer Phil Cohran and jazz bassist Malachi Favors. According to Sylvain, these people are important because in the African tradition the idea of speaking about the ancestors’ names and keeping their memories alive is always talked about.

“On one hand, it’s about keeping our lineage, particularly in terms of the culture of the cultural landscape of the South Side of Chicago,” Sylvain said. “But another really important reason why we need to remember these people is because they also are responding to a social, political need of the community.”

Sylvain added that the people of the community love the mural not only because it is bright and colorful but also because the characters portrayed in the mural are people who look like them and with whom they can relate with.

Educator and activist Alice Smith Jones praised the mural for portraying the history of African American people in Bronzeville in  a colorful way.

“The colors are vibrant, and they jump out at you to let you know the character of African American spirit and how we have always been,” she said. “And I thank her for even the idea.”

Photo at top: New mural at Mariano’s features (from left to right) jazz bassist Malachi Favors, pianist Ann Ward, and composer Phil Cohran. Local residents believe the mural speaks to the community. (Arnab Mondal/MEDILL)