A Dream Deferred at Southern Utah Museum of Art explores the Black experience and inequality in education, wealth, and housing. The exhibition is on view through September 23, 2023.
A Dream Deferred: New Perspectives on Black Experience in the Work of Aïsha Lehmann and Vitus Shell
on view through September 23, 2023
Southern Utah Museum of Art, Cedar City
This summer, Southern Utah Museum of Art presents A Dream Deferred: New Perspectives on Black Experience in the Work of Aïsha Lehmann and Vitus Shell in connection to Utah Shakespeare Festival’s production of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun.
Reflecting and responding to the themes of the play, this exhibition explores the presence of the everyday Black man living in a predominately White world and a sociological look at inequalities in education, wealth, and housing, historically and today.
The titles of both the exhibition and the play come from the Langston Hughes poem “Harlem”. In Hughes’s 1951 Harlem, Hansberry’s 1959 Chicago, and likewise in 2023 America, this question of deferred dreams resounds in the experiences of Black people and other communities of color that continue to live on the margins of society. What system forces have obstructed the realization of goals, obscuring access to the American Dream for generations? In the works displayed at SUMA, Aïsha Lehmann and Vitus Shell explore answers from both societal and individual perspectives.
For her Imprint installations, Lehmann looked at data visualizations by sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois created for the 1900 Paris Exposition world’s fair, not only in terms of methodology and motivations, but also in the execution of her visualizations—the color palette, the use of subtle data dots, and the incorporation of hand-drawn elements. Altogether, Lehmann’s three Imprints reveal the persistence of segregation from the time of the play into the present, the continued effects of segregation within the city of Chicago, and the different ways the dynamics of segregation manifest in Utah.
Shell’s muses have been long underrepresented in the history of art, and his portraits pay homage to the history of Black identity and culture. The collaged backgrounds in each of his Ice Cream Man works are composed of vintage magazine pages, including periodicals that epitomized Black popular culture. By whitewashing over these images, Shell expresses the erasure of the autonomy and authorship of Black creators through the appropriation and assimilation of Black culture and coolness into the White mainstream. It is therefore ironic that the words “Privilege,” “Rage,” “Comfort,” “Fragility,” “Guilt,” and “Anxiety”—the results of and reactions to systemic racism—emerge from these layered backgrounds, where whiteness is imposed on Blackness, but Blackness is absorbed by whiteness. Shell’s subject might be framed by this white world and impacted by its dynamics, but he ultimately floats above it, independent and imposing.
“I think it’s so interesting—how as Black folks, and other marginalized people—we all have to be cautious and have empathy for everybody else, but a lot of times we don’t get that same energy,” said Shell during his SUMA Observations and Conversations podcast interview. “To me, I think that’s the power of the work.”
A Dream Deferred: New Perspectives on Black Experience is on display at SUMA through September 23, 2023. Located in Cedar City, SUMA is free and open to the public, Monday–Saturday, 10 am-8 pm.