OI links past and present

Staff Writer

The Oriental Institute is prepping for its Aug. 20 opening of the “Our Work: Modern Jobs – Ancient Origins” exhibit. The show includes photos of Hyde Park residents and compares the work they do now to its origins.

“We’re making connections between the ancient world and the modern world,” said Emily Teeter, research associate and coordinator of special exhibits at the Oriental Institute. “So much of our modern world began in the ancient Middle East. People think of the past as abstract, but it’s exciting to know how much of the past is still with us today.”

The portraits feature South Siders including Hyde Park-Kenwood residents that represent the working faces of Chicago such as Mario Silva, a baker at the Medici on 57th Street; Diane Jones, a fashion designer; Dr. Kelly Nicholas, a neuro-oncologist at the University of Chicago Medical Center; Kofi Nii, a driver for Yellow Cabs; real estate broker Margie Smigel; Dr. Haki Madhubuti, the founder of Third World Press and Erika Allen, the Chicago and National Projects director for Growing Power, a group that sponsors and maintains sustainable community gardens in Washington and Jackson parks.

“Many of the people we approached about the exhibit were excited to pose for the photos,” Teeter said. “When they saw the ancient tools some said they wouldn’t know how to use them but others said the ancient tools and modern tools were similar.”

Teeter said a great example was the reaction from the stone carver who engraved the stone at the front entrance of the Medici. He said his tools are the same as the ones that were used 3,000 years ago.

She said some of the subjects for the exhibit, who live in Hyde Park-Kenwood and other South Side communities, even allowed videographers to follow them at work to record their day-to-day practices.

The photographer for the project is Jason Reblando, whose work is in the permanent collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Union League Club of Chicago and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta.

Teeter said Reblando was one of the artists recommended to the museum for the project by Columbia College.

“We chose Reblando because he had done interesting portraits in the past and he showed us that he understood what we wanted to do,” Teeter said.

Instead of taking traditional photographs, Reblando used a 19th century photographic process called tintype, which required him to start in a darkroom, pour chemicals over tin plates, come out of the darkroom with the plates to take a picture and quickly rush back into the darkroom to develop the photo.

Teeter said using the tintype was Reblando’s idea of a way to visually connect the present with the past.

The exhibit opens on Aug. 20 and runs through Feb. 23. For more information, visit oi.uchicago.edu