This poem, Harlem (A Dream Deferred), was written in 1951. As a pre-eminent African American writer, Langston Hughes was an original slashie. Novels, plays, columns, works for children, short stories and non-fiction combined with social activism to create transformative leadership both within and beyond his community, across generations.
I visited this poem a number of times this year. The lush and toxic metaphors followed me around. Of course, the deferral of dreams is very relatable. Especially as an audience member, because I do think of the theatre and gallery as a space to dream while awake.
But it’s the ensuing impact Hughes describes that compels me.
This year I have witnessed artists create works and ideas that have incited all of these repulsions and seductions. Dried up raisins in the sun – that flesh, stretched tight – directs me to the hot glinting sand in Hannah Bronte’s lush mi$$-Eupnea. Running, festering sores – leaking out the toxins so the body can heal – takes me to Still life, by Jinghua Qian. This is a fantastic poem written in response to Alice Wong and Alex Kelly’s collaboration in Assembly for the Future – the Last Disabled Oracle. I’m a vegetarian, so rotten meat isn’t really on my mind very much. But I will never forget the visceral syrupy, sweet running juice of that dragonfruit in James Nguyen and Victoria Pham’s collaboration with Bagus Mazasupa as part of RE:SOUNDING.
There have been many heavy loads carried by many people this year, and not just this year: as we have known for some time from our emergency services colleagues as part of Refuge, when a crisis hits it is the most marginalised and vulnerable who are most impacted. 2020 brought this into sharp focus. Our Refuge artists and partners have been working diligently and with great heart from their homes this year and we are really looking forward to welcoming the community into a rich conversation about preparing for multiple climate crises, including pandemics, in the early part of 2021.
Hughes leaves us with a question, as all good artists do. I am not sure if we are post-explosion, or mid-explosion, or whether the explosion is to come. But I really hope that when we invite you into Arts House’s 2021 program, it lives up to that promise. When I contemplate the great courage and resilience demonstrated by artists this year, I think it just might be possible.
As 2020 draws to a close, I hope you are able to pause, be safe, swim a lot, and be surrounded by people you love.
Image credit: Aeon, Dance Massive 2017. Photo by Bryony Jackson.