In his 1951 poem “Harlem,” Langston Hughes asks, “What happens to a dream deferred?”
by Langston Hughes
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore-
And then run?
Does it stink
like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over-
like a syrup sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Two documentary photographers, Ariyah April and Veronique Moses, set out to answer this question by collaborating with one another to interview and photograph six subjects (one for each of Hughes’ possibilities) at various stages of life. Their aim was to see how different people, some looking ahead at long lives of nothing but potential before them, and others looking back with the wisdom and knowledge that things rarely turn out as planned.
April and Moses met while studying at Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies. They admired one another’s work and shared a creative drive to see the unseen and give a voice to the voiceless. Their individual work appeared together in Truth to Power 4, a juried exhibit about matters of social justice at the Pleiades Gallery in Durham last summer, and when April saw the call of submissions for the VAE collaboration exhibition, she immediately thought of Moses.
Although their collaboration emerged from shared values, interests, and creative impulses, in execution it was efficient and business-like, which makes sense given their backgrounds in business. (Veronique Moses works as a Program Director at IBM Watson Health, and Ariyah April is an experienced sustainable business consultant with an MBA from UNC.)
“We actually created a Google doc for brainstorming and sharing ideas. We had a shared spreadsheet to stay organized, and we used dropbox to share and sort images,” explains Moses.
“Time was tight, so we had to be effective,” says April.
April and Moses collaborated on the idea and approach to choosing subjects, but when it came time to take pictures and talk to people, they worked separately. Each posed Hughes’ question to people they knew in the community and got a range of answers. Older subjects like former Ink Spots singer Mr. Henry “Hank” Williamson, had powerful memories of dreams unfulfilled, and could recall the moment and circumstances that led them to let them go, but also the peace that comes from settling into your real life, the life that actually happens.
Younger subjects, like 8-year-old Anuragini Barman, whose chief dream at the moment is to fly, super-hero style under her own power (or maybe with the help of a jetpack), are more grounded in their still vivid, not-yet-deferred hopes, still in love with the possibilities inherent in them. The dreams of the young are a source of power, a reason for optimism.
April and Moses also give the audience an opportunity to collaborate by writing their dreams anonymously on small cutouts clouds to hang on the ceiling. Some dreams are pragmatic — career ambitions or material wishes. But most, tellingly, are family-oriented wishes for peace and togetherness and happiness, and for the dreams of children to come true.
Red Hat is proud to sponsor THE LAB at VAE in Raleigh, a creativity incubator, gallery, and artist hub. The theme for THE LAB’s year-long exhibition, which highlights a new artist or group of artists each month, is collaboration. This theme is a perfect fit for us as an open source and community-powered company.