For the past month The Last Billboard has been exhibiting Alisha Wormsley’s text “There are Black People in the Future.“ Alisha is a celebrated Pittsburgh-based artist and cultural producer (winner of the 2016 City of Pittsburgh Mayor’s Award for Public Art) whose work explores collective memory and the synchronicity of time, specifically through the stories of women of color. Alisha’s text for the billboard comes from her ongoing art practice, particularly her interest in Afrofuturism.
Last week, The Last Billboard’s landlord, We Do Property, forced Alisha’s text to be taken down over objections to the content (through a never-before evoked clause in the lease that gives the landlord the right to approve text).
I believe in the power, poetry, and relevance of Alisha’s text and see absolutely no reason it should have been taken down. I find it tragically ironic, given East Liberty’s history and recent gentrification, that a text by an African American artist affirming a place in the future for black people is seen as unacceptable in the present.
The artist will be part of a public panel discussion about the text and its removal hosted by the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in the next few weeks. More information to come.
- Jon Rubin, Founder and Curator of The Last Billboard
Response From ARtist
It started out as a black nerd sci-fi joke. A response to the absence of non-white faces in science fiction films and TV. Very much a response to many Afrofuturist writings, like Florence Oyeke’s: “After all, to quote musician Gabriel Teodros: “If we don’t write ourselves into the future, we get written out of tomorrow as well.” — Afrofuturism dares to suggest that not only will black people exist in the future, but that we will be makers and shapers of it, too.”
This phrase became my mantra.
The work has become an archive of information, histories and myths that continue the diaspora’s apocalyptic narrative. I choose the term “apocalyptic” consciously, as it is informed by the slow demise of Black American neighborhoods. (And Still We Thrive). This body of work has already taken many forms: video, installation, street art, performance and now the billboard.
I knew what it could mean in that East Liberty the moment Jon asked. It’s what it could mean in this city, country, world. What conversations could arise, what PTSD could be addressed, and just seeing something so obvious stated in this social climate is reassuring to some–to me. It becomes magical, as fantastic as a prophecy.
I am deeply saddened by it’s removal. And yet I am comforted by how my Pittsburgh has stood up! I think we all know what it is to have discomfort. Let’s begin to work on methods to constructively investigate that discomfort without using power over anyone or anything else. It is not my calling to lead people in any given direction. An artist who inspires me told me, “Your job is to promote thought, not to tell people how to think. To provoke feeling, not to tell people how to feel.” However you might feel, whatever you might think, THERE ARE BLACK PEOPLE IN THE FUTURE.
Finally, this text is a sentence I do not own, it is for anyone who wants to use it. Please. Take it.