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Opening Oct 14: Can You See Me?

A Letter to the City: "jail is not my home", 3-channel video installation, 2022

Opening: October 14, 5-7pm

Weinberg/Newton Gallery

688 North Milwaukee Ave, Chicago

Exhibition run: Oct 14 - Dec 17

Leenaars presents her second collaborative documentary project with Circles & Ciphers – a hip-hop based restorative justice organization in Rogers Park, Chicago: A Letter to City: "jail is not my home" as a part of this exhibition in the form of a 3-channel video installation.

Their project started with an open call for letters from individuals who are currently incarcerated in Cook County Jail. They received 46 letters, and each letter writer was compensated for their creative efforts. Leenaars and Circles & Ciphers then collaborated closely with 15 selected letter writers to create this documentary video piece. Weaving their deeply personal stories through performative actions and image making, the video asks the viewer to reflect on the ways the prison-industrial complex affects individuals, families, communities, and a city. Footage includes excerpts from the letters displayed on walls, buildings, and street surfaces throughout different neighborhoods in Chicago identified by the letter writers as their home communities; interviews with community members responding to the letters’ text; recorded audio of the letter writers reading their own letters over the phone while calling from Cook County Jail; a performance by Circles & Ciphers youth of freestyle ‘serenades’ in front of the jail; and an airplane flying over Cook County Jail with a banner featuring the phrase excerpted from one of the letters: jail is not my home. All these moments are documented and edited together as a letter to the city, amplifying and echoing the deeply personal stories and experiences of young people that are often marginalized in this society.

A Letter to the City: "jail is not my home", video still, 2022

In addition to the documentary, Leenaars and Circles & Ciphers produced and will be presenting the publication, Till My Feet Hit the Warm Concrete: Letters from Young People Incarcerated, which includes all 46 letters they received. The letters contain poems, hip-hop verses, personal stories, and philosophical reflections on the notion of freedom within the context of America. Designed by Sonia Yoon. Their project was generously supported by the DCASE Artist Response grant (2021) and as part of the Dutch Culture USA program by the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York.


Can you see me? is a collaborative exhibition exploring the impact incarceration has on young people. Presented by Weinberg/Newton Gallery, SkyART and Arts + Public Life, this multi-site exhibition features artwork by currently and formerly incarcerated young people, contemporary artists and arts-justice organizations exploring themes of ascendance, innocence and freedom. Extensive public programming will bring together diverse audiences and practitioners to create important dialogue and accessibility for new communities. Artists include, amongst others: Arte Pro, ConTextos, Jim Duignan, Kirsten Leenaars and Circles & Ciphers, Ebony G. Patterson, Cheryl Pope, SkyART Just-Us The exhibition originated from SkyART’s Just-Us program, which provides weekly open studio-style art therapy sessions for incarcerated youth. Across all three sites, the exhibition features large-scale paintings made over the course of several months at the Illinois Youth Center-Chicago (IYC-Chicago), a male medium-security Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) youth facility located on the west side of Chicago. The paintings, which provided the initial inspiration and foundation for Can you see me?, were created by incarcerated youth in collaboration with SkyART staff. The opening reception on Friday, Oct 14, 5-7pm at Weinberg/Newton Gallery.

This opening will be followed by openings at Arts + Public Life on October 21 and SkyART on. October 28, 2022. There are also a series of public events, including panels and film screenings, which you can find the details for on the Weinberg Newton site


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