Bridgeport: Chicago’s Oldest Destination

(Featured image courtesy of thegatenewspaper.com – all other photography is Samantha Wascher original)

Today we’re showcasing Indira Johnson at Palmisano Park

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Indira Johnson is not from Bridgeport; she’s not even originally from Chicago! But, the city of Chicago has been lucky enough to be a canvas for her beautiful and moving installations. Johnson, who currently calls Evanston home, has been an advocate for peace through non-violence education for decades, and one of her most prolific projects goes by the name of Ten Thousand Ripples. This project consists of over 100 fiberglass sculptures of the iconic Buddha that have been sectioned into 10 different groups, nine of which were installed in various Chicago neighborhoods, one of which is at Bridgeport’s Palmisano Park on 27th and Halsted. What makes these sculptures different is the fact that they are only the upper half of the face; this is done with the intention of symbolizing emergence by placing the sculpture on the ground with the upper half of the face appearing as if it is emerging from the earth. Emerging from nature; emerging from the past; emerging to peace and tranquility. Although this particular location was chosen by the Chicago Park District, we both found it suiting that the idea of this project closely mimicked the growth that Bridgeport has made over the years. Bridgeport has always been known as a hard-working, blue-collar, Southside neighborhood; in the past decade, Bridgeport has become a destination for those craving inventive cuisine, craft beers, hometown bars, and a great arts community. Although Bridgeport was historically seen as a rough-around-the-edges neighborhood back in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, it has emerged from a narrow reputation, and I thought this installation did a great job of representing Bridgeport’s progress and growth. This is one of the main reasons why I wanted to focus on this particular piece in this particular community. To see the emerging of the Buddha head from the soil of Palmisano Park was a really meaningful juxtaposition next to the emerging of the neighborhood.

“I wanted it to be in the community…I wanted people to picnic around it…I wanted it to be accepted.”

Johnson’s main goal was to place these sculptures in areas that are less than beautiful because it makes people think. “It’s so easy to put a sculpture in an area of beauty, and it will look great. But to put a sculpture in an area surrounded by garbage, or tucked away in an alley, the viewer really has to think. They have to think of why it’s there, and how it helps make that area beautiful.” NOW, I am not at all saying that Palmisano Park is not beautiful nor am I saying that Bridgeport is less than attractive, but I am saying that Palmisano Park is in the middle of a relatively old and industrial community, so this idea runs parallel to that of the park being in such a random part of the city. The shock; the awe; the excitement. Within the project, within the park…you can find an awesome inner and outer peace at Palmisano Park.

If you haven’t checked out this “once coral reef, turned quarry, turned badass park” that is Palmisano, I recommend you do. Grab your roller blades, hop on your bike, put on your running shoes…whatever…just get there. Easy access via the red line drops you off a few blocks away, or jump on your bike and get down with the Southside!

Johnson is currently spearheading a peace initiative to keep the message going. The initiative will involve participants passing on acts of peace to those around them in varying communities. The main goal is to move people to perform individual acts of kindness and peace; in reality, we can all do something. God knows we can all use a little more peace in our day, and who doesn’t want more peace?! Although the details are a current work in progress, you can contact Indira Johnson for further information and participation at www.indirajohnson.com.

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