This South Shore mural stood out by focusing on objects, not people
The 1991 work by Marcus Akinlana and Olivia Gude — titled ‘Where There is Discord, Harmony; The Power of Art’ — is on the Black United Fund of Illinois’ building.
Symbols, not people, mark “Where There is Discord, Harmony; The Power of Art,” a 30-by-60-foot mural on the side of what’s now the home of the Black United Fund of Illinois at 1801 E. 71st St. in South Shore.
Marcus Akinlana and Olivia Gude, the artists who created it in 1991, see the piece as a statement on the dualities of life — joy and sorrow, despair and hope — and the healing power that art can have.
Chicago’s murals & mosaics
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“Where there is discord, there’s going to be harmony,” says Akinlana, 54. “Where there is oppression, we bring liberation. Where there is hatred, we bring in love, light.”
At the center are three eyes. Two are meant to represent the visual aspect of art and the “spiritual insight” required for art to uplift a community, says Gude, 70.
The biggest one, in the center, is the “all-seeing eye of the Creator,” Akinlana says, meant to show no one can hide from the truth.
A spiral surrounds the eyes, symbolizing the cycle of death and rebirth. There are paintbrushes at each end of the spiral, intended to hint at the unlimited potential of art.
A golden picture frame is meant to represent the social conditions under which art is made and seen.
“You think about what some people associate with art, like a fancy painting in a museum,” Gude says. “But the mural itself shows that that’s not the only thing which is art. Murals on walls are unframed and accessible to everybody.”
A doll in a gold dress symbolizes the African goddess of love. Akinlana says he wanted to introduce more Afrocentric culture.
Other murals often focus on people. This one highlights objects. Akinlana says he and Gude wanted their work to stand out.
Together, they’ve worked on three major mural projects. They also worked with each other in the 1980s and 1990s through the Chicago Public Art Group, which wrote of the South Shore mural: “The work broke new aesthetic ground in that the [artists] chose to eliminate the traditional use of human figures and an obvious narrative structure.”
Gude, who lives in Bridgeport, has been creating murals around Chicago since the 1980s.
“Is your role to be an individual artistic genius, or is your role to open yourself out so you can collaborate with others, hearing what they’re thinking, hearing their messages and then making work together?” she says.
Akinlana says people in the surrounding community helped them decide the themes of the piece.
“We didn’t just come into the community and start doing artwork with no consultation with the actual people who lived there, even though I lived there myself,” says Akinlana, who has moved back to New Orleans, his hometown, after 10 years in Chicago.
At the time the mural was painted, the building was an arts incubator. Now, Carolyn Day, executive director of the Black United Fund of Illinois, a not-for-profit organization that supports African American communities, hopes to get the artists to restore the work, which has faded over time.
The Black United Fund also uses a building across the street, at 1750 E. 71st St., which has its own mural, by artist Flournoyd Brown.