Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism.
When did the proverbial American dream — the myth of equal opportunity in the US — die for you? For Julia Justo, it happened the moment she realized she was working 50 hours a week but was still unable to save for her future. For artist Anjelic E. Owens, it was in grad school in New York, when she was working so much to afford her materials that she couldn’t find the time to create art. For Christian Mártir, a Puerto Rican musician: “The day I was born, in an American colony.”
These and other testimonies are recorded in a new online project by artist Lizania Cruz titled Obituaries of the American Dream: 1931-2020. Commissioned for El Museo del Barrio’s ESTAMOS BIEN: LA TRIENAL 20/21, curated by Rodrigo Moura, Susanna Temkin, and Elia Alba, the website is modeled after the obituary pages of a newspaper, with vertical columns of text against a black background. Instead of mourning individuals, however, each notice announces the passing of a typical American fantasy for “non-im/migrants and im/migrants” around the world.
“I was already thinking about our vision of work and individualism and I was also reading Judith Butler on nonviolence and this idea of interdependency. That was at the beginning of the pandemic,” Cruz said. “Then George Floyd happened.”
The mirage of upward mobility may be long dead, but Cruz’s project anchors its demise in the names and lived experiences of real people. More than 40 submissions on the site so far relate intimate stories of injustices large and small that tangibly illustrate how factors like race, gender, class, and language — among many others — limit access to opportunity in a country whose leader still denies systemic inequities.
In her own obituary for the project, Cruz says her American dream “died of Covid-19 complications.”
“It was through the pandemic that I realized the failure of our current value on work and individualism,” she writes. “I knew the system wasn’t created for a person like me but, somehow, I believed the idea that through my hard work and my exceptionalism I could make it through. As we were all forced to pause, I could see clearly that I was wrong.”
At the onset of the coronavirus outbreak in New York City, the former epicenter of the epidemic, Cruz began reflecting on the people considered essential — and how many of them lacked proper equipment, healthcare, and other protections.
“For me, this idea of work, and kind of considering the value of work versus human life, really shifted second week of shutdowns,” she said. “As with every process, and because we were living through this moment of collective grief, I thought, we need to grieve and mourn this idea in order to reconsider what a new way of interdependency would be like.”
The title of the work references the year 1931, when writer and historian James Truslow Adams coined the term “American dream” in his book The Epic of America. “Throughout my practice, I’m interested in how we can anchor these ideals in historical moments, and that’s why I chose 1931,” said Cruz. “But a lot of my friends who are Black Americans told me, ‘This thing never existed for me,’ which I understand.”
The project’s call for submissions will remain open for the next two months, and anyone can contribute. You can share your story here. Cruz’s vision for the work includes a physical exhibition of the printed obituaries, to take place at El Museo next year.
Obituaries of the American Dream: 1931-2020 continues online through the end of the year.
The autumn holiday of Sukkot continues to offer solace and community for new generations.
Equity should be discussed in the form of European and American institutions partnering with the Benin government to create sustainable museums.
This exhibition in Great Falls, Montana addresses the concept of intention in contemporary fiber art and its complex relationship with the history of women’s art as craft.
Yamasaki’s most well-known projects — the twin towers and the Pruit-Igoe housing project — were both destroyed on national television.
An exquisitely illustrated and enlightening new book reveals the screen’s unique role in Japanese history and culture from its origins to the 20th century.
Explore new avenues in artistic practice and scholarship amongst a diverse cohort of peers while gaining leadership skills both academically and professionally.
Find the perfect gifts for friends and family.
There is nothing extraordinary about Murphy’s subjects and yet there is something inexplicably disturbing about her paintings and drawings.
In this exhibition, curated by Patrick Flores and presented by Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Paiwan artist Sakuliu reflects on interspecies co-sharing and coexistence.
Participatory photography aims to counter the pitfalls of photography as an exploitative or voyeuristic medium.
This week, a Frank Stella is installed as a public artwork in NYC, the women behind some iconic buildings, looting Cambodia, fighting anti-boycott laws, and more.
An Original Copy of US Constitution Sells for $43.2 Million, Becoming Most Expensive Document Ever Sold
MoMA board member Ken Griffin went well over asking for the document, beating out cryptocurrency enthusiasts who crowdfunded to purchase it.