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"After You" | Exhibition

"When I was 13, I made a ballpoint pen drawing on notebook paper of my Dad's smiling face. I cut the drawing to the edge of the shape of his head to allow it to be easily transferred to any background that he chose. This was a gift for his 31st birthday. He still has the drawing. (I only cringed a little when I saw it again.) I'm named after my father. He was named after his mother's brother, William Paul Mickens, whose life was taken one month before my father was born. William Paul Neal is a meticulous and uber-organized handyman, witty and charming. He was raised mostly by his grandmother along with four sisters and two brothers. They grew up one block east of my mother's family in Roseland, on the Southside of Chicago.

An overdue realization of the impeccable resilience of my mother and father sparked my obsession with unraveling the tangled layers of our family histories. Many stories have been brought to life for me by revisiting and being introduced to images of people that I have limited knowledge of. Given the marvelous surface details and the rich interior narratives they hold, a high definition image [drawing, painting, or photograph] of a loved one is a priceless treasure to me. Depending on the perspective, the stories in these pictures may transform over time, but however they change, they typically help us remember something valuable about the person(s) depicted.

Since the summer of 2023, I have been searching for, requesting, and collecting photographs of many of my daughter Indigo's direct ancestors. The stories these photos tell range from facts corroborated by government records to aspirational fantasies only known to select members of the family. This project is intended to be a platform for exploring the visible as well as the unseen aspects of genetic inheritance. Aspiring to the nature of a family at its best, this has truly been a collaborative process. I have invited creatives who share common ancestors with Indigo to contribute to this living archive. Thank you to the generous kinfolk who continue to help us all find our way."

-William Paul Thomas


The Rubenstein Arts Center is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday through Sunday from 1 to 6 p.m.

Contact: Yesenia Yanez