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ART in Auburn Gresham

Best Art You Can Step On

Kiran Misra
            Kiran Misra Adinkra symbols pavement art

Power of Love. Humility and Strength. Intelligence & Ingenuity.  Friendship and Interdependence. You can’t walk thirty steps on the sidewalk of 79th Street without having your feet touch these words—or their accompanying symbols—between Wallace Street and Ashland Avenue. Engraved on large concrete tiles that blend into the path, the patterns are both a prominent fixture of the boulevard and an easily overlooked example of public art.

Designed by Jacobs/Ryan Associates for the Chicago Streetscape Program, the tiles were part of a project to enhance Auburn Gresham’s commercial district and reinforce the area’s cultural identity. In addition to trees and fence planters, the firm chose to incorporate symbols and patterns from two significant cloths of the Akan people of West Africa: the hand-woven Kente and the stamped Adinkra. The former were mounted on lampposts, the latter imprinted in the pavement.

“Adinkra” means farewell in Twi, the language of the Ashanti, a subgroup of the Akan people. Originating in the nineteenth century, the hand-printed fabric became known as Adinkra cloth because the Ashanti traditionally wore it for funerals. Proverbs, household objects, people, animal behavior, and historical events are symbolized in the geometric forms stamped onto the cloth.

After walking a few blocks down 79th, the symbols become familiar. Four swirls emanating from a center cross? Humility and Strength. An acorn-shaped shield with two curls? Power of Love. The pattern is irregular, and you never know which symbol might follow. Some look as if they were stamped onto wet concrete just yesterday, with clean indentations. Others have been worn away over time, with only indistinct impressions to remind us that a symbol was ever there. (Chloe Hadavas)

Adinkra symbols pavement art, 79th St. between S. Wallace St. and S. Ashland Ave.

Above Reprinted from ART in Auburn Gresham | Best Art You Can Step On

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