A Dream I Had was a grant-funded community art project created in collaboration with Dwelling Place andthe Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA) in Grand Rapids, MI. The goal of the project was to create a companion exhibition to Or Does It Explode, a group exhibition of portraits of contemporary refugees that was on display at the UICA. At the same time, I was to give residents of Dwelling Place buildings a way to tell their stories. The aim was both to give residents a means of expression and to encourage them to socialize and grow more familiar with visiting the UICA.
To do this I first asked residents to think of a dream they had had in the past or still had today. Then I took inspiration from Langston Hughe’s 1951 poem Harlem (Dream Deferred), from which Or Does It Explode took its title. I presented participants with one half of Hughe’s rhymes, and had them create the second half. Then I asked them to choose an object from half a dozen abstract objects I had created. This item was to be a stand-in for the dream they had thought of, so I asked them to consider how they might hold that dream. I then photographed them, printed the image, and had them to affix their poem to the image.
Overall, I was amazed by the honest, striking, and original lines people wrote down. “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or is left in the dust when I went on the run?” wrote one participant. At the same time, participants’ poses quietly communicated their relationships with their dreams in ways that illuminated their choices of poetry.