“There Are Black People in the Future,” Alisha Wormsley simply stated on a black billboard with white text placed in Pittsburgh's East End neighborhood in 2017. Black identity and culture often finds itself defined and redlined between the past, present, and future, oftentimes in a constant state of oscillation. relic explores concepts of time — and timelessness — through Black cultural artifacts. McKissick, poses the question, “what will we find when we get there?” to explore what shapes future identities in the beyond. relic serves as an improvisational burial of works tied to memory shaped through documentation, intuition, collecting, spirituality, and the land through mineral and food.
Through the work of artists, Abigail Lucien, Janelle Ayana Miller, Kevin Demery, Lakela Brown, Rhonda Wheatley, and Shonna Pryor, McKissick draws connections to create a visual time capsule of objects rooted in the complexity of what it means to define blackness within an object and for blackness to seen. “It is a desire to live in a future that is now, because of the precarity of black quotidian life wherein tomorrow is fleeting and often too risky to wait for or imagine,” Tina Kampt says in Listening to Images.
Kevin Demery is interested in the space between the past and the present and the sad truth that we have “lost the ability to collect memory.'' His piece, “Shell” is a fleeting and whimsical portrayal of a found discarded child’s hoodie, worn, and slightly tattered with a bodily figure composed of shells. For Demery, the shells as much as the hoodie are a metaphor for a relic, existing as fossilized records of things that were once living. Norman Lewis, believes that “blackness can function both as presence and absence.” The same could be said of Demery’s reference to the hoodie and the bodies that inhabit them.The hoodie as an emblem has become a politically charged symbol within the American canon. One of loss and martyrdom, but also of adornment — a cloak of protection and also one of pain. Demery’s drum piece, When Boys are Birds and Men are Soil, referencing John Singleton’s film “Boyz N the Hood '' also explores similar themes in it’s portrayal of the scene of Ricky’s death, who Singleton says represents the death of the Black American Dream.
Shonna Pryor’s Ledger Papers is a collection of history and represents another aspect of the Black American Dream. It chronicles the history of the first Black entrepreneurs, including Frederick Douglas, from the archive of the Freedmen's Bureau. The centerpiece of the exhibition features a wall of gold silkscreen ledger pages assembled as wallpaper. Pryor references, on one hand, that Black people’s labor created the economy of the country, and then through the ledger papers shows the shifting of autonomy, yet the limitations of it. Perhaps the work is abstracted and hard to decipher for that reason, with the illegibility representing the barriers of entry black entrepreneurs faced - and still do.