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The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Local artists offer window into life in another part of the world at Evanston Art Center

Rose Carlson/The Daily Northwestern
John Wangendo’s “Through my Eyes” hangs at the Evanston Art Center. Wangendo’s work is featured in an exhibition in the Evanston Art Center’s lobby which runs from Oct. 7 to Nov. 5.

Skokie-based artist John Wangendo grew up drawing in Kenya. After studying finance at a London college, Wangendo worked as a banker before becoming an independent contractor in Skokie.

But when the coronavirus pandemic hit, Wangendo’s newfound free time inspired him to pick up art again.

“I remember since I was a kid — since I was ten years old — I loved drawing,” Wangendo said. “I knew it was in there somewhere. But in Africa, a lot of people die with their talents because most parents push you to be a doctor or a lawyer.”

Wangendo’s art is displayed in the Evanston Art Center lobby show, which opened Oct. 7 and closes Nov. 5. It also features Evanston-based artist Yancey Hughes.

Wangendo said he hopes to educate American audiences about the cultures of various African countries through his art.

Wangendo sources his reference images from photographers across the continent and creates his drawings using charcoal on canvas. He said his portraits and their descriptions tell stories of struggle and adolescence.

“What I enjoy most is just bringing the faces to life,” Wangendo said. “If you look at my art, I really do concentrate a lot on the eyes because I believe the eyes are what draws the viewer towards the heart … it just feels good, educating people about people from Africa.”

The lobby gallery provides a “space dedicated to artists and curators who identify as BIPOC, individuals with disabilities and/or LGBTQIA+,” Director of Development and Exhibition Manager Emma Rose Gudewicz wrote in an email to The Daily.

Evanston Art Center features four lobby shows per year. The current exhibit was curated by local artist Fran Joy, who highlighted the “humanistic, dynamic and moving” qualities of Wangendo’s work and the unique social justice elements of Hughes’ work on the Evanston Art Center website.

Hughes’ installation transports the viewer to Ethiopia.

During an approximately six-hour journey from Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, to Hawassa, Hughes took photographs that captured the Ethiopian landscape and people. The trip captured a common experience for Hughes and his family, who make the drive often to visit his adopted son’s family.

Hughes’ small, framed photos hang in a grid on a window-facing wall just past the entrance of the gallery.

Hughes said his installation serves a dual purpose: to provide information about the area to people who have never seen it and to stimulate the viewer.

Hughes said he was inspired to become a photographer by magazines he read as a child, like Life and National Geographic.

“I would see those pictures and think that would be a great career to do,” he said.

But he noted that no singular installation or show can fully represent an entire country, people or culture.

“There is no definitive view of what a people are like,” Hughes said. “We have to keep exploring and learning.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @roselcarlson

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