featured gallery for May 2020

Stages of Grief: A Dream Within A Dream

Cleaning— the routine compulsion of it— has been the rhythm of my quarantine. I’m astonished by the way I turn to gray matter— rolled up in corners and stuffed between couch cushions. Loops of my own hair scatter trails onto the floors. My body busies itself with its own shedding, and it is a reminder that time is quickly passing and I am getting older under a new world order. Despite the lack of seismic movements on the earth’s tectonic plates, we are not in a moment of stillness.

While we are not frozen in time, we may be frozen in grief; its wading mires of aching and loss sparked by the pandemic, but glaciated by incompetent politicans and a lack of equitable resources. The first month, I woke up and scrolled through obituaries on my phone. I couldn’t recall ever living in a moment where such a barrage of bad news made my center of gravity drop so low I felt untethered, unmoored, wild. Now, May—a conditional, the last month of spring—brings a sort of grief that sits upright and burns brightly. Some of us are grieving family, chosen or otherwise. Some grieve the way things were and what is to come. It’s challenging to relinquish control of the world we once knew, but it is up to us to wield our grief to make a new order.

In April, the brilliant Arundhati Roy wrote in the Financial Times about the COVID-19 pandemic as a moment of reckoning, as global capitalism stutters and bursts at the seams. She notes, “It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

Ready for the new, we have now entered a space shared between the living and dead. These works of art now teach us how to manage loss and imagine a future for our fragmented world. The name of this web gallery comes from a 1995 collage by H. Alan Cheung. Alongside ticket stubs and an advertisement for German opera (the ephemera of pleasure), red graffiti announces A DREAM WITHIN A DREAM. What heaps of dream carry us through this strange illusory time in our lives? What do the grieving dream of? In The Sparkling Vestments of a Child’s Dream, Garland Eliason French offers memento mori, feminine mysticism, and planetary bodies as a way to process and flatten a world that constantly tunnels into a void. By seeking patterns and motifs across history, French’s work supersedes it, and the piece hints towards places in-between: places that hold opposites together like repulsing magnets.

Perhaps this duality brings us the space to both grieve and heal through joy together. Grief is a seam where creativity—as celebrated by resilient communities of color in Tseng Kwong Chi’s photographs of Harlem Ballrooms or Ronald Bruce Monroe’s Paradise Garage II, two works that burst with exhilaration—meet the everyday melancholy of Chloe Dzubilo’s Untitled (Ain't Nothing Like Knowin') or Constantine Jones’ Anniversary, which relay the ritual behind existing, and thus coping with the guilt of it. What else, with its lightness of being, will join us on this journey?

With their many taxonomies, textures, and colors, these works confront the way it feels to live on in a world where others have not. As subjects and viewers, we look through the windows of Martin Wong’s brick-clad Voices, the diaramic visioning of Michael Lownie’s Cubra Libre, and the crooked blind of Ronald Bruce Monroe’s Transient to reminisce about the past and conjure a dream for the future. In Roger Brown’s paintings of buildings, we are miniature people embracing each other. We live out the theatrical scenes of Anthony Rosado’s Lolita Lebron Homage, and light candles in the dark calm of Luis Frangella’s mournful Untitled, #8. These stark moments of smallness and lonesomeness allow us to consider what is truly essential, large, and loud in our lives. Family, like the one depicted in Joyce McDonald’s tender collage from 1996 stands tall in comparison. Another is community-led healing spaces like Shirlene Cooper’s Women Empowerment Art Therapy Group, and of course, the texture of touch in Alexander Hernandez’s Embraced.

Other works let us consider how we honor and mourn our dead, as in the depictions of mummification in Garland Eliason-French’s Despaira Moorish Woman in a Depression or Roger Brown’s paintings, which brim with life while representing those who died of systematic neglect related to HIV/AIDS and American slavery. At a moment where we cannot gather to mourn our dead through funerals, wakes, shivas, or memorials, the visualizations these works provide function as a tool of healing, and can help us recognize our grief as much as our generational memories of loss. In the way this pandemic echoes moments of past strife, it reveals that we are continuously mourning and haunted by traumas in concert. The dual lonesomeness of the looming twin towers, as in the work of Tseng Kwong Chi, who used photography to parse through an identity of otherness illustrate this, as do the joyous and brightly colored sculptures of Tony Feher that contain subtle tributes to those lost. Every moment of this pandemic is a ceremony of losing, and these artworks show the facets of grief that can be all at once frenetic, lonesome, and full of yearning.

In her poem “from ‘Surge’”, the Lebanese-American poet Etel Adnan writes, “We came to transmit the shimmering / from which we came; to name it / we deal with a permanent voyage, / the becoming of that which itself had / become”. Much like Arundhati Roy’s proposition to walk lightly and imagine a better world, I know that there are no ends in sight. There are only permanent voyages— the space between becoming and what became. These works let us see, through a myriad snapshots, the places in between losing the beloved and envisioning a future in its honor. Whether the loss is relatives or the rituals, daily or momentous, which make up the rhythms of life—from graduations to funerals to daily walks or dance parties or dinner at friend’s houses— we grieve and we transmit a shimmering yearning for a better future. We owe it to our dead, who deserve to rest easy on their ‘long-term pillows.’ We owe it to ourselves, who haunt the earth and fill it with humming, seismic rhythms.