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Painting Black America: Artist Abe Ilo’s collection displayed at H-F Juneteenth Festival 

Legacy is artist Abe Ilo’s main focus as he strives to continue the work his late grandmother, artist Annie Lee, began. In his art installation, Faces of Black Americana or FOBA, he kept her legacy alive and crafted his own. 

Faces of Black Americana is the first art installation to be displayed during the H-F Juneteenth Festival. 

Members of You Matter 2 provided context for each piece of artwork in short video clips posted on on4nem.com, the website where the collection is for sale.


Artist Abe Ilo holds up the Black Power fist next to “Gaze,” a piece in his art installation, Faces of Black Americana. 
(Faith Lee/H-F Chronicle)

FOBA includes 15 vibrant art pieces that display the timeline of the lives of Black Americans from their time as royalty in Africa before being enslaved, to the height of the Civil Rights Movement. 

“With the timeline, it gets more vibrant as it gets more current because really the extension of this is [the festival],” Ilo said. “This installation is a culmination of the 1800s to the present … it’s not fair to say what it took me. This is our journey.”

Black Americana is a term often used to describe Lee’s artwork. She was known for creating art that depicted the everyday lives of Black Americans. The term was trademarked by Ilo to preserve it and have “Black influencers be the real Faces of Back Americana.” 

In 2015, Ilo founded the Annie Lee Art Foundation in her honor. She passed away in 2014. The foundation works to support the arts in underserved communities. Ilo serves as the director of the foundation. 

“What I saw from my grandmother is that you can build a life and a career with art, and as we know, art plays a big part in everything that we do,” Ilo said. “I wanted to continue her legacy in that way and keeping art available by providing scholarships and grant funds for seniors that [are] getting ready to go to college.” 

Similar to the work of his grandmother, Ilo’s creation of FOBA expresses the beauty of the Black community throughout multiple generations. To display this beauty, Ilo used bold colors in several of the pieces. 

“[Black and colored] are these labels that they put on us to make us forget our depth, our layers and we have so much to offer, but you know we have to go through all these filters that are outside of ourselves to get to them,” Ilo said. “I wanted this installation to be a portal into that.”

Ilo used Genie AI and Wonder AI, two artificial intelligence software applications to assist in creating the installation. His goal in incorporating AI was to make the installation current and help generate the true essence of Black culture. 

While the artificial intelligence platforms were helpful in the creation of the pieces, Ilo said he had difficulty getting the platforms to produce presentable images of Black Americans. 

Ilo uploaded many of his own personal images of family along with hundreds of other images of African Americans to the AI platforms to develop the pieces. 

“I wanted my installation to also alert us to the fact that artificial intelligence is not aware of Black culture,” Ilo said. “I had to train it that Black is beautiful.” 

Ilo hopes that the message of FOBA will continue beyond the installation. 

The entire FOBA installation is available to view or purchase on on4nem.com. Some proceeds from the sales will support You Matter 2. 

Ilo is a Homewood-Flossmoor High School graduate, class of 1992.

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