‘Vigilance’ Showcases Diverse Environmental Leaders With Work From Local, National Artists

Nora Moore Lloyd’s photographs of Sarah Begay. Lloyd’s works is on display in “Vigilance: Learning From the Legacies of BIPOC Environmental Leaders.” (Courtesy of Nora Moore Lloyd) Nora Moore Lloyd’s photographs of Sarah Begay. Lloyd’s works is on display in “Vigilance: Learning From the Legacies of BIPOC Environmental Leaders.” (Courtesy of Nora Moore Lloyd)

The Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods is celebrating Earth Day all month long with an exhibit aimed at amplifying the work of environmental leaders who are Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC).

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“Vigilance: Learning From the Legacies of BIPOC Environmental Leaders” is inspired by the work of Hazel Johnson, a Black Chicagoan known as the mother of the environmental justice movement. She once said: “Every day, I complain, protest and object. But it takes such vigilance and activism to keep legislators on their toes and government accountable to the people on environmental issues. … If we want a safe environment for our children and grandchildren, we must clean up our act, no matter how hard a task it might be.” 

The exhibit is in partnership with Insight Advocacy. One of the group’s founders, Janae Harris, said Insight Advocacy came to be because her children, along with others in Highland Park and the North Shore, needed more educational and cultural diversity. They felt the history they were being taught in school only highlighted the struggles of people of color, not the celebrations.

“We try to create spaces where there is celebration, but (we) can also come together comfortably and have real conversation,” said Harris, co-president and director of strategic partnership at Insight Advocacy.

“We have to tell our stories,” Harris said, “or they won’t get told.”

Now, five years later, the organization offers monthly youth or adult events that foster conversation, educate the community and allow people to engage in art activities. Harris, along with her two children, are just a few of the artists featured in “Vigilance.”

“Overall knowledge of the impact of the environment on our health and what that means to us and all people is our goal,” Harris said. “Being able to take the time to learn more about it … Hazel Johnson — our kids are not hearing about her contributions. But she’s been fighting toxic waste for years. It’s important for us to have the knowledge to share so that it doesn’t get lost, and they (our kids) can make better decisions.”

Catherine Game, executive director of the Brushwood Center, agreed. 

“What ‘Vigilance’ is working to do is to amplify those voices,” Game said. 

“At Brushwood, we work at the intersection of health, equity and access to nature,” Game continued. “There’s a lack of recognition of the intersectional nature of this work and how marginalized communities are disproportionately impacted. There’s important systemic issues behind the many environmental problems we face today. Art can connect people in a way science and data cannot. Systemic issues today come down to relationships, to relearning history and building relationships with people who may be outside of your norm.”

The group show incorporates works featuring BIPOC artists, leaders and activists who have made an impact in environmental justice and community activism, in works of all mediums.

Among those leaders showcased is Ron Finley, who became known for his “guerrilla gardening,” a practice in which people place seeds to create gardens on vacant lands. There are also two pieces highlighting the work of Autumn Peltier, a 19-year-old environmental activist who is known for her advocacy for clean water, work she began at the age of 12.

As for local artists featured, Native photographer Nora Moore Lloyd’s photos are on display. They’re from a series she worked on years ago that incorporates profiles of Native elders in the Chicago area. Her photos are of Susan Power, one of the founders of the American Indian Center, and Sarah Begay, a master weaver who used a Navajo loom as depicted in the photo. 

“When I saw this show,” Lloyd said, “what impressed me most was not only does it feature what we need to be vigilant, but who is being vigilant. I feel these women embodied that fully.”

“Vigilance: Learning From the Legacies of BIPOC Environmental Leaders” runs through May 5 at the Brushwood Center, 21850 N. Riverwoods Rd. in Riverwoods.

Follow Angel Idowu on Twitter: @angelidowu3

Angel Idowu is the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation Arts Correspondent.

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