JENNIE C. JONES, Open Constellation (Oxide Red), 2020; Acrylic on canvas and acoustic panel | Three parts: 12 x 12 inches; 36 x 48 inches each (two parts).; Courtesy of the artist and PATRON Gallery, Chicago. Photo by: Pierre Le Hors

Prospect 5: Yesterday we said tomorrow is the fifth edition of Prospect New Orleans, a citywide art exhibition. Inspired by New Orleans jazz musician Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s 2010 album Yesterday You Said Tomorrow, the title of the exhibition centers the unspoken present, the place where past and future come together, and where other courses of action become possible. The exhibition title also implies the deferral of meaningful change, which often comes slowly or not at all. The artists and ideas that define this exhibition confront this truth, and the stark realities of history, but also suggest that we might yet plot a different future.

Prospect.5 features an intergenerational group of 51 artists from the United States, the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe. The artists have created projects that emerge from research into place, express connections to the past and to land, and seek to form and reflect community. They have considered the ways in which history continues to shape the present, and their artworks are testaments to acts of ritual, selfhood, and modes of resistance that define daily life in New Orleans and beyond. Their projects offer spaces of memorialization and mourning, and of imagination and togetherness.

Installation view, Yesterday we said tomorrow; Courtesy of Prospect; Photo: Alex Marks

Yesterday we said tomorrow takes its cues from the current moment and from New Orleans itself, a city built on inextricable layers of history. While the narratives of this history are contested and suppressed, its presence can always be felt. This exhibition, the course of which has been marked by the Covid-19 pandemic, a historic election, and Hurricane Ida, presents art as a means of defining one’s self and as a statement of opposition, and as an enduring assertion that challenges the dominant historical record. It reveals the ways that New Orleans, a beacon of culture and an embodiment of this nation’s complicated past, is a quintessentially American city, the future of which is dependent on the truths of our past and the actions of the present.