Runway to Reality

March 25 - June 10, 2016
Opening Reception: Friday, March 25, ​6–8pm

Runway to Reality is a collaborative exhibition featuring work by photographer Maurene Cooper and seamstress Suzette Opara. Cooper and Opara combine photography and garment design to explore the coming-of-age event of prom through material, texture, rich color, femininity, and opulence. This exhibition highlights the cultural significance of prom on the South Side of Chicago and makes visible the robust community celebration and joy surrounding this event. For this exhibition these artists have physically crystallized and combined their overlapping love of pageantry, sequence, and custom fashion.

This exhibition is the winning submission for Arts + Public Life's 2016 Exhibition Open Call.


Artist Conversation: Helen Maurene Cooper with Hamza Walker
Wednesday, April 27, 6-7pm
Arts Incubator, 301 East Garfield Boulevard, Chicago


Join us for a conversation between photographer Helen Maurene Cooper and Hamza Walker, the Director of Education and Associate Curator for the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago. Helen Maurene Cooper's photographs are on view in the Arts Incubator gallery as part of Runway to Reality, a collaborative exhibition between Cooper and fashion designer Suzette Opara that explores the cultural significance of prom on Chicago's South Side. Free and open to the public.

In Conversation with Joy Bivins, Dr. Jason Lahood, and Camille Morgan
Monday, May 16, 6-7:30pm
Arts Incubator, 301 East Garfield Boulevard, Chicago

Join us for an open conversation about the cultural, social, and psychological threads woven throughout the artwork in Runway to Reality and an opportunity to dig more deeply into the complexity of prom as a coming-of-age tradition and its relationship to other similar traditions across cultures. Runway to Reality is a collaborative exhibition between photographer Helen Maurene Cooper and fashion designer Suzette Opara, on view at the Arts Incubator. For this conversation, Cooper and Opara will be joined by Joy Bivins, Director of Curatorial Affairs at the Chicago History Museum; Dr. Jason Lahood, Psy.D; and Camille Morgan, independent curator. Free and open to the public.

Runway to Reality: Fashion Show
Sunday, June 5, 2pm
Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S Stony Island Ave, Chicago

Runway to Reality: Fashion Show is a special pageant-style presentation showcasing prom dress designs by Suzette Opara (Eightwentyeight Collection) and photographs by Helen Maurene Cooper. Featuring local South Side teens as the models, the event will celebrate the young women in the show during this important milestone and entry into adulthood.


Suzette Opara is a Nigerian-American designer who designs and constructs custom couture garments from her South Side Chicago studio. Opara’s designs have recently been seen adorning Mary Mary at the Stella Awards, and Whoopie Goldberg’s daughter Alex Martin on the red carpet at the 2016 Oscars.

Helen Maurene Cooper is a multidisciplinary social practice based artist who uses photography as her primary form of communication. This year, she will release a publication with Leisure Press entitled Paint and Polish: Nails on the West Side and will have her second solo exhibition at Bert Green Fine Arts in September. Cooper is represented by Bert Green Fine Art.

About Exhibitions at the Arts Incubator

The exhibitions program at the Arts Incubator offers a platform for Chicago-based artists to thoughtfully engage with the global, contemporary art world in a localized environment. The unique positioning of this program acts as a catalyst for collaboration and exchange, creating a dynamic and critical space. Exhibitions are realized throughout the entirety of the building and the surrounding Washington Park area, fusing temporal, public space with the dedicated interior. This coupling is echoed with the public programming efforts, as we introduce the work of national artists to the local conversation.


pin301 E Garfield Boulevard
Chicago, IL 60637

Wed-Fri 12:00pm-6:00pm
Extended hours during events