Dreaming of a Future

Dreaming of a Future curated by Jeffreen M. Hayes
June 10-September 17, 2023
Citywide

In 2023, Threewalls will reach an important milestone: twenty years of supporting contemporary visual artists in Chicago. Founded and led by artists, the organization continues to hold space for Chicago artists, particularly those who are not engaged with commercialized practices, and build relationships across various communities. Our history of centering artists, offering first time opportunities, and being responsive to artists’ needs remain part of our ethos.

With this history deeply embedded in our structure, we are using our 20th anniversary to dream of a future: dreaming and imagining with Dreaming of a Future situates Threewalls’ methodology, a Black feminist methodology, of being a dream space and a Black art space working alongside and inside of a continuum of historical Black art spaces. Looking forward, dreaming, and imagining are survival tools for Black folks, which also allow for the possibility of an alternative way of being and existing. This moment in Threewalls’ history, as a Black female led visual art organization, is directly connected to these ways.

Threewalls does not exist in a vacuum. The organization’s mission of fostering contemporary art practices that respond to lived experiences, encouraging connections beyond art is rooted in a holistic approach and acknowledgement that whether an artists’ work of art is representative, figurative, conceptual, or abstract, their humanity is embedded in the work. The mission attends to the wholeness of artist, who is also part of a community or communities, as does our values. Risk, respect for process, celebrating difference, and collaboration are values that germane to our work and in dialogue with the ways in which many Black art spaces thrive.

Historically, Black art spaces are rooted in community, shared and collective experiences, and engage their surrounding neighborhoods, most often than not, their Black neighborhoods. When considering the arc of Black visual art spaces, Threewalls is engaged with the lineage of art-created spaces of the Harlem Renaissance (306 Group, Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts, Harlem Community Art Center), the art collective Spiral, Chicago’s South Side Community Art Center, and Chicago-founded artist collective AfriCOBRA, to name a few.

As a curatorial and exhibition project Dreaming of a Future is an opportunity to call attention to Threewalls place in this history while doing the work of engaging neighborhood communities and artists with a deep practice of community. This is the historical context, context that engages Chicago as a Black space.

Dreaming of a Future is also a call to collectively participate in resistance. Resistance to accepting the limitations of our current conditions. The conditions that tell us that we must exist within the status quo. A status quo that is framed by and through the lens of Whiteness, White supremacy, and capitalism. Whiteness, White supremacy, and capitalism work in tandem to distract us from dreaming a future. A future where historically excluded communities have their needs met, access to what they want, and conditions that spur creative avenues to care, love, and reparations.

What are the conditions needed for Black and Latinx communities to have their needs and desires met and their dreams fulfilled? How can Black and Latinx Chicago artists and their respective neighborhood communities dream a future of Chicago together? How do we return to a place and space where dreaming is not only a survival tactic but also a tool for joy and hope? Where can artists serve as a portal to the future?

Call-and-response is one such tool. As an African Diasporic tradition, call-and-response is a communication tool through oral and written traditions. Also known as antiphony, it is most widely understood through songs (though also used in poetry and literature), where a lead singer offers a call to the group and the group collectively responds back. In essence, it is a dialogue that includes the community and builds and reinforces relationships between folks in community with each other.

Artists Regina Agu, Andres L. Hernandez, Norman Long, and Nnenna Okore  offer responses to the calls while also offering their own dreams for a future Chicago. The artistic responses will also be presented the artists’ respective neighborhoods: Jeffery Manor, Edgewater, Albany Park, Pilsen and Uptown. This is to break down the silos and neighborhood boundaries and serve as a reminder that our humanity is dependent on each other. As poet Gwendolyn Brooks wrote in her poem honoring Paul Robeson, “We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”

Our collaborative process with artists and communities is an emergent one, and we allow the process to inform the form of the art. With this in mind, the public art will take various forms: sound, sculpture, and photography. It will reflect and intersect with the art and culture that exists within the neighborhoods, making it relevant to the history of contemporary art in Chicago. An immersive component along with archival documentation and publication will capture this moment for the future.

Dreaming of a Future aligns with the principle of Sankofa. Sankofa, an Akan concept, is to look to the past to move forward. Visually, it is represented by a bird that has its feet firmly planted forward with its head turned backwards holding an egg in its beak. Another reading of this is past, present, and future are all connected. These are the tools we will use to encourage different and fertile conditions that usher in a better and just future for Black and Latinx folks, artists included, in Chicago.

With artists and community at the heart of our project, Threewalls hosted Dreaming Circles throughout 2022 and 2023, where artists and their neighbors collectively dreamed of a future Chicago. Their dreams were shared out as calls and presented artistically in community spaces in their neighborhoods, spaces that they frequent. The spaces were identified by the Dreaming Circles participants, like laundromats, bus stops, grocery and corner stores in South Shore, Andersonville, and Back of the Yards. Learn more about Dreaming Circles here.

The Dreaming of a Future exhibition is partially funded by the following:
Chicago’s Cultural Treasures
Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, City of Chicago
Field Foundation
Ford Foundation
Illinois Arts Council Agency
National Endowment for the Arts
and individual donors Juliette Bethea, Gary Metzner and Scott Johnson, Susan Harrison, and the Threewalls Board of Directors.

The Dreaming of a Future publication, convenings, and research & publication fellow are funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art

Descripción disponible en español aquí.

Image Description: A graphic with text that says “Dreaming of a Future, June 10-September 17, 2023, in Albany Park, Jeffrey Manor, Pilsen, Upton, and Rogers Park, Organized by Threewalls and curated by Jeffreen M. Hayes” in black with a white background.

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