Arts & Entertainment

Refugees, South Siders Get a Voice at LUMA’s Spring Exhibit

The Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA), opened their spring exhibit this past weekend, showcasing the talents of photographers Gregory Beals and Tonika Johnson and artist Della Wells.

The LUMA (820 N. Michigan Ave.) exhibit will run until June 2. The featured installation was that of Beals: “They Arrived Last Night.” Beals is a journalist and humanitarian who has worked for the International Rescue Committee, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs and the United Nations Refugee Agency, according the LUMA’s magazine, The Lumanary. The content of his photography centered around the refugee crisis, primarily of those living in refugee camps.

“This is an exhibit about hope, resilience [and] how we find the best in ourselves with the worst humanity has to offer,” Beals said.

Three separate photographs all showed the same subject: a little girl named Soundos from the town of Jasim, Syria. Two photographs depict her as a typical school girl, holding a backpack and walking to school with friends. The third is a portrait of her beside a brain scan of a sniper’s bullet in her head.

“She is living with the war inside of her head,” Beals said at a gallery discussion held right before the exhibit’s opening reception.

Soundos became a symbol in Syria — quite like Malala, the Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban whilst standing up for education — and continues to inspire people. Beals uses his photography to tell powerful stories like those of Soundos.

While most of Beals’ images are of Syrian refugees fleeing to countries such as Jordan or Lebanon, the exhibit also shows images from Sudan and other places around the globe.

Frank Avila, a Mexican man who attended the gallery opening, said it’s important to remember similar things are occurring in the United States.

“This exhibit is similar to what’s happening to people coming from South and Central America to Mexico,” Avila said. He said he appreciated the tribute to refugees, even if they aren’t the refugees in his home country.

Other photos show families living in refugee camps, men praying in nontraditional ways, and some refugees acclimating to their new country. While some photos are heartbreaking, others are joyful.

The gallery hosted plenty of current and former docents, or volunteer guides, of LUMA.

“The docents are very excited about the exhibit,” Betty Brady, a docent of LUMA, said. She said she was especially excited about this because LUMA doesn’t usually have photographers on display.

Alongside Beals, two other artist installations were honored, including one by African American artist Wells. Her installation, “Her Story, My Dreams,” consists of collages and drawings, taking inspiration from old and contemporary African American themes.

“A lot of my work is about my childhood,” Wells said.

The youthful inspiration can be seen in Wells’ collection of handmade dolls. At the reception, she said she played with dolls until she was a teenager, but the dolls were always white. She didn’t receive her first black doll until the age of 8 or 9. All the dolls in the exhibit are black, but several of them have blue eyes, inspired by novelist Toni Morrison’s famous book “The Bluest Eye.” Wells also said she writes poems with the dolls.

Another tribute to African American culture was the third installation by Johnson.

“Everyday Englewoodwas a photo collection of scenes from the South Side. Johnson’s parents attended the reception to see their daughter’s work.

“I knew she was good, but I didn’t know she was that good,” Tony Lewis, Johnson’s father, said. He called her “my little Angela Davis.”

Having grown up in Englewood, Johnson wanted to show the normalcy of a neighborhood that carries such a bad reputation. The photos showed store fronts, residents, girls picking dandelions and hair salons.

“I want [people] to always question what they hear and think twice about the narrative,” Johnson said. “Englewood at its core is just a neighborhood. It’s still a community.”

For more information about LUMA, visit Admission is free, and they’re open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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