A wry smiling teen-age boy on a vibrant yellow background grabs your attention. Next to him, is a portrait of a strong young woman, full of potential. Their voices literally speak to you. Their placement is tragically wrong—unexpected. They are horizontal to the ground, coffin like. There is an uneasy tension between the illuminated life-sized photographs of 12 Philadelphia youth and their presentation. The soundscape heightens this friction: the collection of voices articulate their dreams and reveal obstacles and challenges to those aspirations. “My dream is to be a social worker. That’s my dream. I’m not going to go to college because it would be too hard for me.” It mirrors the lives of so many youth whose promise is squandered and often suppressed.
…Or Does it Explode? is part lament, part hope embodied in the faces and aspirations of the adolescents, and part indictment of a society that hasn’t done better for our youth. The work reveals a potentially explosive contradiction. Viewers confront the faces, full of life and beauty as well as their insight and hopes and must position themselves in relation to the future that is being buried.
The title for the installation is drawn from the last line of Langston Hughes’ classic poem Harlem (which begins, “What happens to a dream deferred?”).
…Or Does it Explode? is a collaborative artwork I did with Philadelphia youth. The project is commissioned and coordinated by the ArtWorks! program of the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.
The project was installed in Logan Square in the heart of Philadelphia’s civic and business center, directly in front of Philadelphia Family Court.
The audio narratives are an essential part of …Or Does it Explode? Three samples of the audio are available below:
The project is made possible with the support of the Philadelphia Department of Human Services , the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, Duggal Visual Solutions, Calumet Photographic, Carr & Duff, IBEW Local 98 and other funders.