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Troublemakers: Chicago Freedom Struggles Through The Lens Of Art Shay

A groundbreaking documentary photo exhibit that sheds new light on protest movements in Chicago between the late 1940s and early 1970s will be presented this fall from Sept. 17 to Dec. 19 at Roosevelt University's Gage Gallery.

The exhibit features the work of Art Shay, one of the world's great living photographers. Shay opened his mammoth archive in Deerfield to Roosevelt University historian Erik Gellman, whose research focuses on 20th Century protest movements in America.

"The provocative photos in this exhibit, most of which have never been seen before, are likely to change what we know and how we think about protest movements in Chicago," said Gellman, the show's curator. Gellman spent the last year culling photos from Shay's archives.


Early Cold War protests, Chicago's Freedom Movement marches, the 1968 Vietnam War demonstrations, photographs of Richard J. Daley and the Chicago police, as well as struggles by the Black Power Movement, are featured in the show.

The opening night reception includes a dialogue with Shay.

The unusually organized show is centered on a 12-inch-high strip, comprised of hundreds of Shay's most telling protest images. The photo strip traverses around Gage Gallery's spaces. Above and below it are larger break-out shots by Shay of history-making street activism.

"We are breaking some rules on what a photo exhibit should look like and how the story should be told in order to capture the complexity of Chicago protest," said Gellman, who worked closely with Erica DeGlopper, the curator of Shay's photographic archive, in order to identify the most relevant photos and unique design for the new Gage Gallery show.

"With this exhibit, we hope to get people thinking about who the troublemakers really are when people take to the streets for peace, economic justice and democracy," said Gellman.

A photographer for Life magazine, Time, Sports Illustrated and many other national publications, Shay has photographed seven U.S. Presidents and also is well-known for his long friendship and collaboration in documenting Chicago with the late writer Nelson Algren.

"Art Shay is someone we envision as both roaming the streets of Chicago with Nelson Algren and photographing many of our nation's celebrities," said Gellman, who has been amazed to learn how deeply Shay documented Chicago's protest history.

"Those who think they know Art Shay's photographs may be surprised. His body of work serves to show us that protest in Chicago is much, much more complicated than we have been led to remember."

An associate professor of history at Roosevelt University, Gellman is the author of the books The Gospel of the Working Class: Labor's Southern Prophets in New Deal, published in 2011, and Death Blow to Jim Crow: The National Negro Congress and Militant Civil Rights, published in 2012. He is currently working on a book that chronicles post-World War II protest movements in Chicago.


Bonus Gellman:

"In an August 7 [2014] segment on Chicago Tonight about the history of the discriminatory lending practices that Chicago's Contract Buyers League fought against in the 1960s, Erik S. Gellman, Associate Professor in the Roosevelt University Department of History & Philosophy and Associate Director of the St. Clair Drake Center for African and African American Studies, discussed the similarity between the recent subprime mortgage crisis and the struggles of the Contract Buyers. Gellman's segment begins at 6:37."


Comments welcome.


Posted on September 5, 2015

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