Turtel Onli’s exhibit, “Passion Fruit: The Other Chicago Black Movement” is a collection of watermelon-themed representational images, posters, photographs and original artworks that explore the American watermelon, not as a fruit, but a former symbol of racial stereotype which required to be transformed into a positive and cultural icon. The exhibit pays tribute to the Chicago-based Black Arts Guild (BAG) Turtel Onli founded in 1970. BAG featured such members as Jim Smoote, Obie Creed, Dalton Brown and Espi Frazier when they were all college students in art. Although endowed with immense talent, they were often denied options due to their youth. The Guild not only helped to launch their careers but also adopted the Red, Black and Green watermelon as its logo and initiated a creative battle to deconstruct the negative applications of watermelon images into a positive and creative symbol.
Onli is a creative artist whose career has touched upon a variety of disciplines in fine and applied visual arts. He has been an art therapist, educator and illustrator. He has also distinguished himself in painting, drawing, illustration, publishing, fashion and multimedia production. Onli earned a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts and Masters in Art and Art therapy from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He studied in Paris at the Sorbonne and the Centre Pompidou. He has exhibited in France, and the United States. He has been a three time solo exhibitor at the ETA Creative Arts Foundation in Chicago and a four time visiting artist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Onli has been an illustrator for the Rolling Stones, Motown, Mode Avant Garde Magazine and Holt, Rinehart and Winston. His work is in many collections including those of the Cool Globes Public Art, the Chicago Children’s Museum, Johnson Publishing Company, Alice Coltrane, the Miles Davis Estate and the DuSable Museum of African-American History.