At a public event at Karamu Tue 1/14, FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art announced its organizing theme and unveiled its logo and signature artwork for its second edition, taking place July 17-October 2, 2021. The response from the crowd of arts-engaged Clevelanders was highly positive to the former and mostly negative to the latter.
The event will be titled “Oh, Gods of Dust and Rainbows,” and Karamu was a highly appropriate place to reveal this. As co-curator (with Tina Kukielski who was not present) Prem Krishnamurthy (pictured) explained, the title was derived from a 1957 poem by writer Langston Hughes (1902-1967), who lived in Cleveland as a youth and worked extensively at Karamu.
In “Two Somewhat Different Epigrams,” Hughes wrote
Oh, God of dust and rainbows, help us see That without dust the rainbow would not be.
I look with awe upon the human race
And God, who sometimes spits right in its face.
According to the press release, “This poem, a meditation on adversity and a prayer for transformation, inspires FRONT 2021’s curatorial approach. The exhibition’s title extends Hughes’ original invocation to signal a plurality of beliefs, stories, places, and people.”
This edition of FRONT aims to connect Cleveland’s past and future, and explore ways in which it is, or could, reinvent itself, with a particular focus on labor and the environment, a theme that builds on last year’s events and festival surrounding the 50th anniversary of the final Cuyahoga River Fire and how it helped spur the environmental movement.
“Amidst growing uncertainty, precarity and divisiveness, the exhibition asks how communities, from religious institutions to support groups to dance clubs, can emerge as sanctuaries for collective agency and healing,” says the press release. “Responding to today’s challenges as potential opportunities, Oh, Gods of Dust and Rainbows explores the emancipatory power of joy, as embedded within song, movement, and multi-sensory experience.”
At Karamu, numerous members of the curatorial team and FRONT staff expanded on Krishnamurthy remark’s, and the diverse team, with its variety of artistic backgrounds, bodes well for the event.
Not so well received was the signature artwork, which many in attendance felt was too quirky and cutesy to reflect the far-reaching and often sobering themes of the event. The colorful, cartoon-like art seems better suited to a kids’ fest.