THIS MAHOGANY WAS EXTRACTED FROM INDIGENOUS LAND
At Preston Bradley Hall Foyer, Chicago Cultural Center
Many of the sumptuous materials from which today's Chicago Cultural Center was built were only made available by the colonial dispossession of Indigenous people and extraction of resources from Indigenous land.
Most of the stately doors in the building, for example, were constructed in part or whole from mahogany wood. British companies began to extract mahogany from colonized lands in the West Indies, Mexico, and Central America in the 1820s. By the late 19th century, when the Chicago Public Library/G.A.R. Memorial Hall was constructed, logging had depleted mahogany stocks and deforested landscapes in the Americas, leading to the intensification of mahogany extraction in other sites of British colonialism, in particular West Africa and East India. The mahogany used in these doors was taken from East India.
Logging in all of these colonial sites devastated the plant, animal, and human systems that harvested wood was enmeshed within. Along with the clearing of forests by logging, forest ecosystems were damaged and destroyed by road building, the harvesting of animals for food for loggers, the dispersal of Indigenous communities that had sustained forests, and many other interventions.
In short, the mahogany that these doors were built from came from a space of extractive violence intimately connected to the doors’ indisputable beauty.