South Shore artist Dorian Sylvain brings massive Afrocentric mural to Auburn Gresham’s 79th Street


AUBURN GRESHAM – A prolific South Side muralist behind art and beautification projects in the South and West Sides is spearheading a massive project on the 79th Street corridor.

Using “Afrocentric designs, bold colors, patterns and symbols,” Dorian Sylvain will begin painting a 50-by-50-foot mural on a bare wall at 7901 S. Racine Ave on Wednesday.

Sylvain and his sons will create a mural that will “communicate concepts like balance, strength, creativity and community” to neighbors in Auburn Gresham and capture the essence of the neighborhood, she said.

Sylvain will start priming the wall this week, then there will be a community day on July 23 where neighbors can help out, she said. An unveiling and celebration are scheduled for August 13.

The project is part of the city’s Invest South/West Artist-in-Residence pilot program to add public art to Auburn Gresham, Austin, Englewood and Back of the Yards. Sylvain was one of four artists selected by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the city’s planning and cultural affairs departments.

“It gives me joy to do work like this,” said Sylvain. “I feel like I’ve enhanced an experience in the community, and that’s something I enjoy.”

Credit: Provided

“Amazing learning experience”

Sylvain grew up on the South Shore and his mother encouraged his artistic passions by enrolling him in music lessons offered by the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and acting lessons at the ETA Creative Arts Foundation. , a non-profit organization that trains young adults on the South Shore.

Sylvain found a love for stage design after attending shows with his mother, she said.

“I was so engrossed in the costumes and sets that I could barely pay attention to the performances,” Sylvain said. “At the time, black theater was a hub for performers, directors, and costume designers. My mother helped me connect with the local community theater. She was great at helping me target and find these connections so I could learn more.

This love for scenography brought Sylvain to the American Academy of Art College and to San Francisco to pursue his career.

Sylvain returned to Chicago after the Loma Prieta earthquake hit the Bay Area in 1989, and she formed a relationship as a set designer with ETA, a “small black community theater” that offered a “drama experience.” amazing learning,” she said.

After having three “back-to-back” boys, Sylvain had to embark on a new career that would demand less of her time in the evenings but still allow her to flex her artistic muscles, she said.

Sylvain has painted murals in the past, including one with the Chicago Public Arts Group in South Shore in the ’80s, she said.

Sylvain applied those skills and began commissioning residential projects while his children were in school, she said. She “had a whole bunch of tricks,” like painting rooms and picking out art collections for homeowners, that put her in control of her schedule, she said.

Great Chicago artists, including singer and actor Oscar Brown Jr. and muralist Bill Walker, were among those who mentored Sylvain.

As Sylvain’s children grew up, she returned to the “realm of public art”, she said. And her sons joined her, she said, following the path her mother had created for her.

“As children, they were dragged from project to project and they grew up mixing this lifestyle that I had as an artist,” said Sylvain. “Now they are collaborating with me. I [was] a one-man band for a long time, so it’s good that my children contribute so significantly.

Credit: Supplied/Sandra Steinbrecher

With the 79th Street mural, Sylvain plans to tap into the “Afrocentric aesthetic” that dominates her art style, she said.

The mural will feature Adinkra, African symbols used by the meaningful Akan people of Ghana, Sylvain said. Many symbols have already been set in concrete on 79th Street in Auburn Gresham.

Sylvain will also use bright colors, including orange and yellow, which are reminiscent of Kente fabric, she said.

Neighbors can visit the mural site in July to paint Adinkra stencils that will be incorporated into the final design, she said.

“The idea is to use bright colors and strong shapes on a large scale so that they are visible from different directions in the community,” said Sylvain. “We hope to capture the essence of the community and where it is evolving.”

Credit: Dorian Sylvain
A look at the potential design for the 79th Street Mural.

The 79th Street mural will be the first of several south side summer projects for Sylvain. She is also the lead artist at Mahalia Jackson Court, a pop-up public square on vacant land in Chatham this summer, she said.

Leaders of the University of Illinois at Chicago, one of the future tenants of the Healthy Hub at Auburn Gresham, a healthy living center also on 79th Street, asked him to paint a community mural in their office , she said.

There is a lot of work to do, says Sylvain. She wouldn’t want it any other way.

“When I talk to budding muralists, I always tell them that one project always leads to another. Pour yourself into it so that when you walk away, you feel like you did your best,” Sylvain said.

“The same applies here. I hope this mural will inspire someone else who wants me to work in their neighborhood, and I will have another opportunity to collaborate with a new group of people in a new space.

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