Akito Tsuda: Pilsen Days—Capturing Chicago’s Diversity Through the Lens of Japanese Photographer Akito Tsuda

Akito Tsuda: Pilsen Days opens June 3 at Harold Washington Library Center and features a distilled moment of Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood during the early 1990s.

Chicago Public Library (CPL) stands as a beacon of cultural preservation, housing a treasure trove of archives that chronicle the ever-evolving tapestry of Chicago neighborhoods. With a deep commitment to amplify diverse narratives and embrace cross-cultural prospectives, CPL unveils its latest exhibit, Akito Tsuda: Pilsen Days, a captivating and immersive black-and-white photo exhibition showcasing Pilsen in the early 1990s, set to debut at Harold Washington Library Center on June 3, 2024.

“At Chicago Public Library, we create opportunities for discovery, especially discovery that celebrates the diverse stories of our city,” said Commissioner Chris Brown. “This beautiful exhibit centered on the history of Pilsen fosters connections to our Mexican heritage in Chicago.”  

The Southwest Side neighborhood of Pilsen is a testament to Chicago's rich immigrant history, serving as an entry point for diverse communities seeking opportunity and belonging. In the 1990s, Pilsen pulsated with the rhythms of Mexican and Mexican American culture captured through the lens of Japanese photographer Akito Tsuda. 

Tsuda invites viewers on a deeply immersive journey, transcending mere images to unveil a profound collaboration and connection between artist and subject. Departing from the role of detached observer, Tsuda's work showcases his intimate connection and deep respect for Pilsen's community, offering a perspective he poignantly describes as 'an immigrant among immigrants.' This perspective, born from his experience of arriving in Chicago from Japan in 1988, adds a layer of empathy and understanding to his work, allowing him to capture the essence of Pilsen's community in a way that only an outsider who has become an insider can. 

Enrolled at Columbia College Chicago in 1990, Akito Tsuda embarked on a class assignment that would become a collaborative endeavor. Together with the community, he captured over 500 striking images. Each frame is not just a moment frozen in time but a narrative woven with the vibrant threads of shared experiences, inviting us all to delve into the heart of Pilsen's community and culture.  

"In my Pilsen photographs, the main theme I find is love. In the Library's exhibit, the viewer may see the hardship depicted, but the photos also show how much the people love each other, the unconditional love of parents for their families," said photographer Akito Tsuda. "I felt that love as a photographer, and so I also wish the exhibit to show my appreciation for the families and people who welcomed me and worked with me to create their photos."

Chicago Public Library's Archives and Special Collections Division, with the help of the Chicago Public Library Foundation, and the generous support of the Terra Foundation of American Art, acquired 118 of Tsuda's photographs in 2021 and added them to its archives, making Tsuda's work available to all Chicagoans.    

"Our mission is to collect and provide access to materials that reflect Chicago's history. Tsuda's photos document a Mexican American community that has developed and thrived in Chicago, and it's important to preserve that history for future generations," said Division Chief of Archives and Special Collections Chianta Dorsey. "The people photographed probably never conceived they would end up in an archive, but I want them to know that their stories have a place at Chicago Public Library."

Akito Tsuda: Pilsen Days opens in the 9th floor exhibit hall at Harold Washington Library Center on June 3, 2024. Additional satellite exhibits will run during fall 2024 at other CPL locations. For more information, visit Chicago Public Library's website. You can find photos featured in the exhibit here. Akito Tsuda: Pilsen Days is part of Art Design Chicago, a citywide collaboration initiated by the Terra Foundation for American Art that highlights the city’s artistic heritage and creative communities. The exhibition is funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

About Chicago Public Library

Since 1873, Chicago Public Library (CPL) has encouraged lifelong learning by welcoming all people and offering equal access to information, entertainment, and knowledge through innovative services, programs, and technology. Through its 81 locations, the Library provides free access to a rich collection of materials, both physical and digital, and presents the highest quality author discussions, exhibits, and programs for children, teens, and adults. For more information, please call (312) 747-4300 or visit chipublib.org. To follow CPL on social media, visit us on Twitter (@chipublib), Facebook (@chipublib), or Instagram (@chicagopubliclibrary).

About Chicago Public Library Foundation

The Chicago Public Library Foundation (CPLF) is an independent nonprofit that exists to accelerate the potential of our public library by investing in resources that transform lives and communities. Together with its civic-minded partners, CPLF makes pathways to learning, creativity, and civic engagement accessible to Chicagoans of all ages through investment across three funding priority areas: Closing the Academic Opportunity Gap; Activating Creativity & Connection for All; and Bridging the Digital Divide.

About the Terra Foundation for American Art

The Terra Foundation for American Art, established in 1978 and having offices in Chicago and Paris, supports organizations and individuals locally and globally with the aim of fostering intercultural dialogues and encouraging transformative practices that expand narratives of American art, through the foundation’s grant program, collection, and initiatives. Learn more at terraamericanart.org.

About Art Design Chicago

Art Design Chicago is a special citywide collaboration and series of events and exhibitions that highlight the city’s unique artistic heritage and creative communities. An initiative of the Terra Foundation for American Art in partnership with artists and arts organizations across the city, Art Design Chicago seeks to expand narratives of American art with an emphasis on the city’s diverse and vibrant creative cultures and the stories they tell. Learn more at artdesignchicago.org.