Chicago Street Art scene
Chicago street art scene is a diverse amalgamation of concrete installations, sombre sculptures adorning the lake shore drive and a plethora of murals scattered all over the city. If you can look beyond those giant skyscrapers and jaw-dropping architecture, you will be greeted with the softness of vibrant murals in two of the most bustling neighborhoods quite a distance away from the madness of downtown. I am talking about the predominantly latino neighborhood Pilsen and the trendy neighborhood of Wicker Park, where my quest for murals led me to plenty of not so hidden and some cleverly hidden treasures. The murals in these two areas are reflective of the culture around them and distinctly different in theme and execution. Pilsen murals, and definitely the more famous of the lot, are strongly rooted in ethnicity and latino culture with deep undercurrents of immigrant identity and the current turmoil around it. Wicker Park murals, on the other hand, are trendy like the hood itself and showcase stylish art and imagery. Here are some photos that I snapped as I explored these two extremely different neighborhoods to unearth the Chicago street art scene gems.
CHICAGO STREET ART : A GUIDE TO PILSEN MURALS
Pilsen is one of the last standing Latino neighborhoods of the city and is known for its murals and yummy Mexican cuisine. Although I originally intended to restrict my visit only to the National Museum of Mexican art, my eyes popped out at the sight of some amazing street art flanking the roads during my Lyft ride to the museum. I immediately decided to check the mural scene out for myself and walked all the way from the museum (on 19th street) to Loomis street along 18th street and uncovered many beautiful street art gems. These were not only in vibrant bold colors but were very ethnic Latino in heart, with a strong nod to the Mexican identity and roots. Themes ranged from cultural to social to religious symbolism along with several hard hitting ones on current immigration policies.
One of my favorite murals (see below) was that depicting the legend of Popocatepetl and Iztaccíhuatl, two of the largest volcanoes on earth which are in Mexico city, a painting of which I also saw at the National Museum of Mexican art. Popocatepetl and Iztaccíhuatl were lovers but when a cruel lie about warrior Popocatepetl ‘s death in war made Iztaccíhuatl take her life, the grief struck warrior carried her to the top of a mountain that he made in her honor, knelt there and watched her as she slept eternally with only a burning torch to keep him company. From that time onwards, both lovers stayed facing each other and those volcano peaks continue to stay twined till this day.
Besides 18th street, the wall along 16th street has several beautiful murals as well which are worth taking a look. Most of them are partially covered by parked cars, but are intact and not vandalized.
CHICAGO STREET ART : A GUIDE TO WICKER PARK MURALS
Wicker Park is one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Chicago and along with Bucktown, forms the shopping hub of the city as well (by shopping I mean local independent boutiques and not retail stores). I came here with an intention to check out some of the small businesses and neighborhood restaurants (Mindy’s Hot Chocolate and En Hakkore Bimbimbap and Tacos to be exact) and ended up walking along Division street, Damen Avenue and Milwakee avenue for more mural hunting. Murals here ranged from city themes to giant stylized art and were a lot of fun. Here are some of the ones I could find.
I hope you enjoyed this mini guide to Chicago street art, aka murals in the Pilsen and Wicker Park neighborhoods. All you need to do is put on your walking shoes and explore these neighborhoods with an eagle eye out for murals. 16th and 18th street on Pilsen (starting from the National Museum of Mexican art to Loomis) have several murals along the way. In Wicker park, Damen Avenue, Milwakee avenue and Division street have murals on store sidewalls. Finally, if you do visit Pilsen, do not give the free National Museum of Mexican Art a miss. Their exhibits are some of the best that I have ever seen. Read my other posts on Los Angeles murals here and Austin murals here.
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