What is love? What place does it have in our life? How do we experience love in our teenage years? How do we remember our first love? These questions triggered an eye-opening art exhibition at the Janette Kennedy Gallery (in the basement of 1409 S. Lamar St.) organized by OutLoud in partnership with Visible Magazine. The exhibition is titled It Was All a Dream. The theme? Love, of course.
OutLoud is a nonprofit that specializes in building community, representing youths and developing restorative spaces and practices. Their mission is “to amplify youth’s voice and value youth as change-makers, storytellers and artists,” says co-founder Allison Caldwell. This is the reason they organize this type of project: to create a platform where young people can share the stories that are important to them.
“We can really create change, build empathy and shift perspectives about what young people are capable of,”
Caldwell says of the group
Eleven young artists from all over Dallas are taking part in the show. They come from different schools, neighborhoods and backgrounds. There are no requirements to join the project because, as Caldwell says, “We really believe that every young person has a story that needs to be heard.”
The nonprofit puts together different storytelling projects throughout the year and has open calls for participants. OutLoud also relies on word of mouth to reach more teens. They usually arrive at the organization through other groups or through their teachers.
Jeffery Moffatt, who's also a co-founder of OutLoud, explains that, right off the bat, they ask aspiring young artists two questions: "Who needs to hear your voice?" and "What do they need to hear you say?" That forms the basis for their creative journey.
“The more adults listen to these youths’ stories, the better off the community will be,” Moffatt says.
Three young artists formed the committee that designed the concept of the show, and they also conceptualized what they wanted to say. What they wanted to talk about was about what love and relationships mean to teenagers.
One of the committee members, Madison Dolo, explains that some adults dismiss teen love, believing that teens are too young to understand love.
“For so many of us, no matter how young, those feelings are so real," Dolo counters. "Like, there’s a reason why we remember the full name of our first crush.”
For this reason, the idea of this exhibition is “to share stories of how we interpret love, how we interpret a relationship,” Dolo says.
Kendall Kendrix, on the other hand, explains that not all relationships are romantic and that relationships are complicated. For her piece, Kendrix explored what happens when one has a “preconceived notion of what someone is and then, if they don’t live up to that idea you’ve created, you get disappointed.”
All the young artists on the show wrote their own stories, styled the shoot and recorded each other. The stories address a wide variety of topics related to love. Non-consensual sexual assault; self-love and self-doubt and finding oneself; the challenges of a father-daughter relationship and craving a father’s love and approval; traditionally romantic love stories; or pining in secret for someone are some of the themes represented in the show.
The multimedia exhibition consists of light boxes with photographs, film sequences and recordings of each story. Various listening stations are dotted about the place and each corresponds to a story. Two people can listen to the same story at a time, and these installations are meant to provoke thoughtful dialogue among participants. There exhibition includes an interactive section where everyone is invited to write a letter to their first love and pin it on a board. These letters will be read at the end of the show, taking attendees on a blast to the past.
The inspiration for the show’s aesthetic, Dolo says, was “to get the feel of an old, grungy '90s prom, but elevated and modernized to fit our individual styles.” The teens achieved that through the use of tinsel, sparkle, exaggerated sleeves and makeup that drops down to the cheekbones.
Kendrick looks back on how they came up with the the exhibitions's name, It Was All a Dream.
“Sometimes when we look back at the good and the bad things through a rose-colored lens, it comes as dream-like.”
Moffatt adds that this project brought back a lot of memories of his own youth.
“The cool thing to me about listening to young people’s stories is that it reminds us of what we were at a specific time,” he says.
The power of storytelling, Moffatt says, is that “it is impossible to listen to a person’s story and walk away unchanged.”
Indeed, when walking through the exhibition, it's nearly impossible to keep memories of first love — as well as some unpleasant situations — from flooding back, and it raises the question of how adults can best help teens navigate the sometimes treacherous waters of love and relationships.
The participating artists, in addition to Dolo and Kendrix, are Jade Curington, Madison Dolo, Aeris Orangem, Beverly Osoro, Sam Major, Ay’nius Shaw, Hunter Allen, Elena Holt, Billie Jennings and Nia Collins. The exhibition will run until Feb. 29, seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. A panel discussion with some of the artists will be held at 2 p.m. on Feb. 22.
OutLoud’s partnership with Visible Magazine means that this exhibition will live outside of the physical space of the gallery. All the stories will go live online on the magazine on Feb. 14, and each artist will have a profile where they can continue to submit and build a portfolio that they can use in the future.
As people started to trickle into the art gallery, young, enthusiastic voices and laughter filled the space. The atmosphere was one of hope for the future. And, as one proud parent was overheard contemplating, the exhibition helps them see a different side of their children, to know them as the people they are.