Folk Of Chicago: A Photographic Testimony to the Chi

Recently, I made a sporadic trip to Chicago this past weekend to cover the Pitchfork Music Festival for CMJ.com, an online magazine I freelanced for in the beginning of this year. I already had the intention of traveling to the city to explore and investigate deeper into the neighborhoods that the nation has declared a part of “Chiraq,” a politically charged nickname that the city adopted after reports of rampant shootings and “gang violence” made their way into mainstream media that simply couldn’t be ignored. I knew this would be impossible between spending all of my time at the festival and simply not having enough time outside of my assignments to find an “informant” (a term used in Anthropology for individuals that act as liaisons between communities and ethnographers that seek intimate access into these space) to help navigate the South Side. I hadn’t build enough trusting relationships between anyone in the city, so all I had was Union Park to work with.

From my time in Union Park in Chicago, I witnessed the physical process of marginalizing local communities from accessing entry into the park. In relation to white, middle-class festival goers, the folk of the city were barred from a space they normally had access to 362 days of the year. Being frustrated with the lack of curiosity by media makers, photographers and press at the festival regarding this issue, I decided to spend almost half of my second day of the weekend to shoot portraits of locals who were also responsible for the success of the festival. Without these folk, this festival couldn’t have been possible. From mothers and young children hawking water to festival-goers from sun up to sun down, to local rappers hustling mixtapes and CD’s outside the gates of the park, to scalping tickets and flipping them for 300% more of their original worth, these portraits hold more significance than the context they were taken in. So, I dedicate this short series for the real MVP’s of the weekend: The Folk of Chicago. [Click through the gallery for individual narrative captions]

Reflecting back on my experience from the festival, I’ve learned that money holds no real significance if it isn’t spent to enhance livelihoods of people in the most objective way possible. The racialization of poverty, violence and welfare has damaged the wellness of communities occupied by the people of the South Side, especially young people of color. While the nation proclaims that gun control will solve the multi-faceted issues webbed within the politics of gang violence in Chicago, fundamental discussions around poverty and affects of structural violence and racism have yet to occur in articles that detail the gruesome narratives of “Chiraq” and police brutality in the city. Where is the academic research and literature on “Chiraq”? The Library of Congress has thousands of volumes detailing the horrors of migrant workers during the Depression Era, testimonies by individuals who experienced American slavery first hand, and even more on Jewish refugees that found new homesteads outside of the United States. I know this series is incredibly minuscule to the sort of work that other photographers and essayists have committed years to providing hard evidence to pressure the state to act. Despite this piece a result of only a three day testimony, they are still three more days adding additional narratives that still remain missing in the vocal objection of injustices experienced by local Chicagoans. And like all things, my work has just begun in breathing life into silent narratives in communities that resemble Chicago. East Saint Paul might be next on my list to discover.

 

Support your neighbors, build with your community.™

 

For photographs from Pitchfork Music Festival 2014 and more portraits from the “Folk of Chicago” series, visit www.nmusinguzi.com

 

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