Above: Installation view of The Promised Land at South Side Community Art Center. All images courtesy of SSCAC.

The Poetry of Promise


In The Promised Land, curated by South Side Community Art Center Exhibitions Manager Lola Ayisha Ogbara, promise is flexible, shifting, and in motion. The Latin noun past participle of promise is promittere meaning to “send forth and let go”. I imagine the fortitude and sacrifice required to embody this type of promise in the face of inarticulable pain, grief, and injustice. And how, then and now, it is signaled by the delicate, primordial freedoms that we all grab ahold of to sustain ourselves in the most perilous conditions. It is a tall order to digest the reverberations of inverted and reversed migrations of African Diasporic peoples, in any context. Yet, in a photo based show dedicated to the transience of Black life, the metabolized pictorial logic of the eleven artists revise a previously laborious endeavor to become a devoted venture. The works stretch comprehension through their deviations of form, technique, and disposition that characterize the initiative of movement as a subversive act. Ogbara enunciates, “movement becomes a way that the gaze can be complicated and diverted”, my attention snags on diverted. Here, diversion has a tangibilty that is not only evident through the trajectory and legacy of Black survival and resilience but through the artistic interventions in which artists, historically and contemporarily, arcuate narratives of promise that invite disruption, suspension, and provocation. Thinking through the notion of promise typically does not yield qualifiers such as suspension or provocation, however, the aggregated works in The Promised Land amass a complexity that challenge you to locate a vocabulary of your own; a body of words and subsequent (re)definitions that animate the complicated registers of sight, sound, touch, and smell latent throughout your experience at South Side Community Art Center. In The Promised Land, you become a different kind of observer and articulator—dissolving into mysterious gaps that galvanize you, provoke you, excite you, and disquiets you, all to unearth intuitive ways of thinking with, through, and alongside the breadth of works presented.

What promise is in stillness? I enter the Margaret Burroughs Gallery. I pan right.

Sulyiman Stokes Untitled (A Man Fishes) (2018) whispers stillness and solitude amongst the cacophony of sturdy, canopied trees that almost seem to swallow A Man whole. He disappears, then reappears, eclipsed by the landscape at varying angles of interaction. Here, in this image, time inhales and exhales with A Man and he becomes a part of the landscape—shadowed and refuged. The translucent pace of stillness gains momentum in Darryl DeAngleo Terrell’s A Way to Get Gone, series (2021). The focal figure extrapolates, obscures, and diverges the gaze through a ghostly, shimmered pixelation. Through forms of unrecognition and safeguarding, the ephemeral locality of liberation finds solace and retreat in the celestial home body.

Whose promise are we to hold? Whose promise are we to let go? I take another lap around the gallery.

Affect is the transportive vehicle that delivers me to Rose Blouin’s staggered four scenes. The images are tethered as a study of the radicality found in public space making by Black people. In WP People 84 (1987), the oceanic density of a ubiquitous scene in Washington Park generates an attunement towards the familiar experience of feeling so tiny in a monumentous world. Puzzling over a legible face in the crowd is an impossible task and is simply not what the image asks of you. The image wants your presence with what it meant for Black people, in 1987, to simply gather and hold space. As Blouin holds the essence of one everyday moment, Loren Toney’s A Portrait of My Father (2018) holds the substance of another remarkable, ordinary moment. A Black cowboy! There is an unclassifiable joy in witnessing the tenderness shared not only between child (photographer) and parent (collaborator) but between man and horse. Though the image draws you in with its considered warmth, you linger for it’s gradual cool. 

Which promise is meant for me? I pivot my body 180 degrees.

The portraits seem to swell the adjacent wall. Images of varying measures all encased in beautiful frames, from stained wood to embossed ceramic, form a familial constellation. My sightline wavers in every direction tracing the particulate evidence of promise in matriarchal power. Manipulation, distortion, and replication are techniques practiced by several artists to communicate defiance and avert stagnated narratives. Shabez Jamal’s Holding On (Matriarchs and Matrimony) (2022) emanates the vibrancy and mystery of promise in intimate acts of care and union. The figures come together and pose in a moment of ecstasy and celebration, but, with no opportunity to land on their composure this truth is not confirmed. Open mouths and stretched smiles become a wide abyss. Eyes minimize to ghostly incisions. Uncanny forms of illegibility refuse possession and sets the stage for porous, imaginary conjectures. Fluidity recurs as an intercessory process and technique in the surrounding works. In Jen Everett’s Untitled (Redoubled/Something We Carry, series) (2017), images are softened by their obvious use. The pronounced crease in one photo and the onset solvent erosion of another makes evident the nostalgic, sentimentality of the photographs to its  holder. These archival images are beloved; kept tight, in hand, and close to heart (or wallet). These modified acts of care and familial protection practices are less concerned with the material maintenance of the image, but prioritize everyday access to the visual representation of the loved one. The ever-morphing landscape of nostalgia is magnified in Billie Carter-Rankin’s Dora & George (2019). The image seems in active decay instigated by use, dispersion, and the passage of time. In the photographs materiality, Carter-Rankin applies a processing technique in which a dirt tinted red stains the image and emulsive tear dropped abrasions dilute its integrity. The satirical comedy/tragedy masks line the walls reminding me of the Greek god Janus, the god of change. A smaller scaled image is repeated and placed by hand in the printed image as though it had always been there; spotlighted as to account for its contradistinction. Temporality is definitely an undertone of discussion, but my fascination is supplemented by the insistent phantasmic connection to duplication embedded in the image’s narrative. Expressions of duplicity and mimicry are stirring reflections leftover from the work. I make it to the top of the galaxy and Mandela Hudson’s Ma Dukes at the Fox Theater (2017) is benevolently posed at the epicenter of this matriarchal tier. As if to ward off calamity or anyone unwilling to have a good time, she dons declarations of singularity, self archiving, and authorship as markers of self actualization. Articulated moments of exaltation aren't always enacted in the collective, likewise moments exist in the singular and deserve heartfelt remembrance.

Is promise real? I tread upstairs.

Entering the Cortor Gallery, endurance and activity interlock on the shores of oblivion in Derrick Woods-Morrow’s Excerpts from Acts of Divination (II) - Negation of Sight (2019). The softened sprint of one figure. The hands of another grasp the hem of a dress to preserve its submerge into a water body. Laxity and tension peripherally meet. The seductive, eeriness of the portraits' refusal to be fully seen, understood, or comprehended imbibes me. The image brings attention to the mysterious gaps between impermanence and transience, between sight and seeing, between stay and stillness. Mystery subsides in the unwavering color coded texture, and balance is audacious in Lawrence Ageyi’s Black Boys in Blue (2019) and Last Born (2018). There is a cinematic, emancipatory aptitude in the images which, visually, distinguish themselves from the surrounding works. The sonorous melody of saturated colors enriches the gaze. The moonlight blue in Black Boys in Blue and baby yellow in Last Born act as a soothing agent to meet the solemn demeanor of both figures. Nothing about their gaze is flimsy or fraught. It is confident, pronounced, and uncompromising; extenuating the distance between assuredness and intimidation. The titles of the works riddle a poem that is yet to be made clear. It swirls in my head; Born, Black / Last Boys / in / Blue.

The addition of fabric in a show dedicated to photography and image making is an exciting exposure. In Anwulika Anigbo Untitled (2022) (3), a tactile sensibility rises to the occasion. Images are transposed onto a smooth, sheer silk that is stitched to a flecked indigo dyed cotton which operates more as a windowpane than frame. The diaphanous silk provides a texture of windowed privacy that steeps the image of five black girls. Three times their huddled stance is reversed in direction; away from us, seemingly in a world of their own making. Repetition resurfaces with Untitled in its triptych display. There is an enticing contradictory murmur in juxtaposing degradable material with the act of preservation through image. I wade in the cross seas of deterioration, impermanence, and articulation when paralleling the work. In this show, there is an insistence that is jointly “sent forth and let go”—inviting your imagination and translation to wander in fertile ground.

What is the poetry of promise?

The poetry of promise grabs a hold of something dwelling inside of you. Orchestrating vestiges of hope that coalesce for you to dream bigger and to imagine otherwise. The potential of its actualization is sinew, reassembling to form a new whole of you. A you that doesn't recoil from uncertainty but instead turns towards its delusion. You become enlivened by promise! The risk of believing in it becomes less daunting! Your presupposed guiding logic becomes illogical so that promise might live! I circled the circumference of the gallery spaces exploring notions of axis, distance, and sight from the perspective of promise. The works whispered stories to me that I am still deciphering. I found that this willfulness produced a profound experience in which looking, listening, and moving become one. But, this is only one mode of articulation when echolocating within the depths presented. Maybe your perspective isn't gained by the poetry of promise but rather it is captured by the unrelenting and diverted gaze, or it lands at the underlying intersections of mundanity and monumentality. Whatever it is, find your compass. Circle the works. Devote yourself to getting lost and being found as many times as possible. Unwind in the aperture of promise and see what can be unearthed.



isra rene (they/them) believes in you and in me. isra believes in weaved webs of dreams tufted by our inherent connections of love, vulnerability, and care. isra believes in deep research. isra believes in writing love notes. isra believes in reading as meditation and the space between words as a playground. isra believes in the power of studying and the power of not knowing. isra believes in invitation. isra believes.

Sulyiman Stokes, Untitled (A Man Fishes), 2018
Unique photographic work
11 in. x 14 in.

Darryl Terrell, 6ºN 14º45'21"N 17º20'36"W Dakar, Senegal
A Way to Get Gone, series, 2021
Archival inkjet print
24 in. x 36 in.

Rose Blouin, WP People 84, 1987
Archival inkjet photograph
19 in. x 26 in.

Loren Toney, A Portrait of My Father, 2018
Inkjet print framed
13 in. x 19 in.

Shabez Jamal, Holding On (Matriarchs and Matrimony), 2022
17 in. x 7 in.

Jen Everett, Untitled (Redoubled/Something We Carry, series), 2017
Archival Pigment Print
26 in. x 22 in. (framed dimension)

Billie Carter-Rankin, Dora & George, 2019
Toner on inkjet print
8 in. x 8 in.

Mandela Hudson, Ma Dukes at the Fox Theater
Acquired 2017
Polaroid archival print
4 in. x 5.6 in.

Installation view of The Promised Land at South Side Community Art Center.

Detail of Untitled, 2022 (3) by Anwulika Inaigo Anigbo
Inkjet on silk + Indigo tapestry
22.5 in. x 35 in.

RUCKUS, 2018-2023
Louisville, KY