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Amanda Williams

Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, Amanda Williams was perceiving boundaries from an early age.

“Even at 6 or 7 years old, we’d drive by a piece of major infrastructure, and there would be trash just on one side,” she said. “That planted the seed for me: What is urbanism?”

Now an artist, Ms. Williams, 43, recently had a solo show at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, featuring her photographs, installations and works on paper that look at the social impacts of the built environment.

But she studied architecture at Cornell and took a long detour through that profession first. Working on the West Coast, she had “unlimited budgets on dream projects,” she said.

She had studied painting, too, and was making art on the side — until she reached a convergence point of sorts.

“The work has evolved to a point where I am able to marry my architect self and artistic self,” said Ms. Williams, who is again based in her hometown. “It occupies an interesting space that is neither and both.”

For her best-known project, “Color(ed) Theory” (2015), Ms. Williams painted eight homes in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood that were slated for demolition. The colors she employed were custom-mixed to match those found on products that were prevalent in her childhood, like Crown Royal purple and Chicken Shack red.

“People have an immediate response to the colors, and it did a great job of drawing attention to why these houses were being demolished, and larger issues,” said Grace Deveney, an assistant curator at the MCA who organized “Chicago Works: Amanda Williams.”

Ms. Williams collaborated on a project that just had its debut at the United States Pavilion of the Venice Architecture Biennale, and next year will address the phenomenon of redlining — discriminatory lending practices — for an exhibition at the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art.

“Chicago is unfortunately the perfect place to look at these things,” she said, adding, “Color always has a double meaning.”


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