A Dream Deferred: New Perspectives on Black Experience in the Work of Aïsha Lehmann and Vitus Shell

June 10 - September 23, 2023

Ice Cream Man: White Fragility by Vitus Shell

In connection with Utah Shakespeare Festival’s production of A Raisin in the Sun, SUMA has engaged two artists–Aïsha Lehmann and Vitus Shell—to contribute works that reflect and respond to the themes of the play, and express how they reverberate into the present.

Lehmann has created a new body of work that centers on the intersections of race, health, and societal opportunity across America, during the time of the play and today. Drawing on the data visualizations W. E. B. Du Bois created to explain the circumstances of Black Americans for the 1900 Paris World Fair, Lehmann overlays demographic information onto maps of U.S. cities and the state of Utah. Her infographics offer a profound education on how systemic racism affects populations of color in different ways across the country. The contradiction of these harsh realities with the gentle aesthetic of her prints only intensifies their message. Vitus Shell’s Ice Cream Man series features a Black man against collaged white backdrops, from which expressions like “Fragility,” “Guilt,” and “Rage” subtly emerge.

If Lehmann’s prints show how White power structures impact Black experience on a societal level, Shell’s paintings present an “every Black man” who is living these experiences, largely contained within and yet contrasted against a White world. Although he might give a face and a body to Lehmann’s maps, Shell’s subject does not melt into the background, but transcends, embodying dignity and pride.

Image: Vitus Shell, Ice Cream Man: White Fragility, 2021