Exhibit finds music behind 'brutal and blank' architecture of Chicago public housing

Exhibit finds music behind 'brutal and blank' architecture of Chicago public housing
Installation shot, The Sound, the Soul, the Syncopation. Photo: Menachem Wecker

Music comes not from concert halls, rock clubs, iPads, and YouTube, but from the musicians' lives -- particularly their experiences of community and home.

That's the premise of The Sound, the Soul, the Syncopation, an exhibition of the National Public Housing Museum at the gallery Expo 72 on E. Randolph.

The Sound, the Soul, the Syncopation

Installation shot, The Sound, the Soul, the Syncopation. Photo: Menachem Wecker

"I grew up in the projects ... the glamorized 'hood lifestyle had an impact on me, and I wanted to be a part of that," states a quote from Lupe Fiasco -- who grew up in Madison Terrace Homes, Chicago -- which hangs on an exhibit wall alongside a chalkboard where visitors are invited to share their own thoughts on music.

"On the other side of it, though," the quote continues, "there was also this whole culture of being a Muslim, listening to Jazz, collecting comic books and being a nerd. I already had these different aspects of my life and I have always been involved in these different cultures."

With their "dense matrices of windows," Chicago-styled public housing tower blocks have come to represent the "face" of public housing, despite the many forms public housing takes, from "row houses, courtyards, and mid-rise buildings [to] sites adapted to varied settings from the mild climate of California to semi-tropical New Orleans to the seasonal Midwest and East Coast," according to the exhibit. "Lost in this perception of a brutal and blank architecture? The capacity to imagine human lives beyond the window walls."

The story of that human imagination woven throughout the National Public Housing Museum exhibit includes Elvis Presley, who lived in apartment 328 of the Lauderdale Courts in Memphis, Tenn.; Jay-Z (Shawn Corey Carter), who lived in the Marcy Projects in Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Kenny Rogers, who grew up in San Felipe Courts in Houston, which he described as "feeling like going to camp every day."

And as one might expect, Lupe Fiasco's story wasn't the only one that had a religious component. Ramsey Lewis, who lived as a child at Mother Cabrini Row Homes on Chicago's North Side, became active in the Wayman African Methodist Episcopal Church. He became the church choir pianist, and after becoming friends with other gospel musicians at the church, he discovered a new kind of sound, jazz.

But one of the most interesting threads of the exhibit is not the stories of would-be-celebrities who dreamed big, but of the ways that Chicagoans respond to the highly interactive show, with listening stations and that chalkboard. Of course, some people write things like "Maya was here!" and "Justin Bieber." But someone else scrawled a great quote from Bob Marley: "One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain."

Filed under: Islam, Uncategorized

Tags: public housing

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