DreamBox’s ‘Within It’ exhibit crosses art’s multicultural borders

By Assistant Arts & Culture

The DreamBox Gallery, 2415 W. North Ave., opened its new exhibit “Within It – Poetry. Image. Fiction.” Oct. 3 as part of Chicago Artists Month, a five-week celebration of creativity presented by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

“Within It” features work on multiple platforms, including poetry, painting, flash fiction and photography, from artists throughout Chicago with their own specific multicultural identities and explorations of those identities. The exhibit is a take on Chicago Artists Month’s theme of crossing borders. Iwona Biedermann, owner of the DreamBox Gallery, curated the exhibit with support from Rosie Quasarano, who owns Cup & Spoon, a coffee shop that shares the building with the DreamBox and displays artwork from the gallery.

Biedermann said she came up with the concept of “a dialogue about multicultural identity within our neighborhoods and beyond” from her own experiences of being an artist who is also an immigrant.

“The issue of being multicultural is something that I live with every day,” Biedermann said. “From my own experience, [those issues are] living with a hybrid identity and trying to find a balance. I’m originally from Poland, and I’ve lived in America for over 30 years, and I came without the language and I basically picked up the medium of photography as my form of expression as a universal language.”

Biedermann said her goal for the exhibit was to create a platform for an open, multicultural dialogue between Chicago artists with diverse backgrounds and ethnicities.

“That multicultural experience often manifests itself with confrontation of your own boundaries,” Biedermann said. “Either personal or religious or emotional or language boundaries—you name it—because it is an unfamiliarity. I like to bring people together from different cultures so they can experience each other and somehow—maybe it’s a personal goal—foster that understanding and respect for each other.”

Many of the artists had distinctive takes on how to communicate multicultural identity for the exhibit. Lloyd Degrane, who contributed 21 photographs to “Within It” from an ongoing series, said he is attempting to showcase the vast differences between Americans in something as ordinary as our homes or watching  TV.

“It’s kind of a study of what people are by what they surround themselves with,” Degrane said. “I would say pretty much each [home], unless there was some kind of institutional setting, is different. That’s what fascinates me because you can go from one home to another and experience a totally different environment.”

Degrane’s photographs feature people from various backgrounds performing ordinary tasks—things that everybody does, such as eating or cleaning up the kitchen, he said.

“I am trying to focus on very common things happening in American homes,” Degrane said. “I’m trying to document [a] part of American life in this era.”

Apart from the visual art that is still on display, the opening night of the exhibit featured poetry readings and flash fiction from several Chicago artists. Joanna Kurowska, a Polish-American poet, said performers at the exhibit not only crossed the cultural borders that define them but also crossed the definitions of their art.

“It was not only the ethnic crossing of boundaries but also the boundaries between genres, literary forms,” Kurowska said. “Flash fiction and poetry are well-designed genres. In the presentations, some of the writers were chanting, singing or dancing, so I also think it was not just literary genres but it was crossing the boundaries of poetry.”

Kurowska said the poems she read at the opening were about her experiences as a Polish-American poet and the “linguistic impact on the mind” for people of any culture or ethnic background.

“Writing poetry is trying to provide a message, but it’s a very complex message,” Kurowska said. “It’s a way to reflect on life—in many particular poems the challenge is different. How can we actually re-examine and survey language because I think people tend to take linguistic aspects as reality, so my poetry is very sensitive to that. There’s one message that I would like to inspire and that is to seek and seek and seek and ask questions and ask questions and ask questions.”

Biedermann said the exhibit was successful in allowing for a multicultural dialogue between artists.

“I believe that people carry their cultural history within them,” Biedermann said. “There was a need to bring people together, so they can experience the ‘otherness’ in some way.”

“Within It” will be on display at  the DreamBox Gallery until Oct. 30.