Object of the Week: Where My Dream At? by Mildred Beltré
Humorous and sly, Mildred Beltré’s (b. New York, NY, 1969) Where My Dream At? presents an everyday domestic object as a question: a white, linen pillow with black wool script, asking, “where my dream at?” Based in Brooklyn, Beltré is an artist, educator, and community organizer whose diverse works explore social change. For Beltré, her creative framework involves the history of political movements, their participants, structures, and how those experiences impact social lives. She often addresses themes of racism, sexism, capitalism, and imperialism, particularly when envisioning a post-revolution world. Humor, empathy, and social justice are fundamental building blocks for Beltré’s work. Beltré earned her bachelor’s degree in Studio Art and Anthropology from Carleton College, and her master’s from the University of Iowa in Printmaking. She teaches drawing and printmaking at the University of Vermont. Notably, Beltré helped to cofound The Brooklyn Hi-Art! Machine, an ongoing socially engaged, collaborative public art project in 2010 with Oasa DuVerney. The Brooklyn Hi-Art! Machine uses art and art making as a community-building tool for their neighborhood, Crown Heights in Brooklyn. Beltré has had solo exhibitions at the Kentler International Drawing Center, Eli Marsh Gallery at Amherst College, and Burlington City Arts Center. She has also exhibited work at the Brooklyn Museum, the Everson Museum, the Walker Art Center, and DeCordova Museum, among others. She presently lives and works in New York. Where My Dream At? is from her ongoing series “Slogans for the Revolution that Never Was.” With Where My Dream At? Beltré explores the domestic space—specifically the bedroom, a space typically associated with rest and dreaming—as a place for revolutionary work, even when asleep. Dreaming is not passive for Beltré, but a critical action necessary to achieving social change. Dreaming is a transitional act, changing and in flux, and to Beltré a dream represents the midway point between an idea and an action. “It’s hard to dream up something that’s not already in front of you,” Beltré explained in her 2014 artist talk at The Media Factory. “It’s work to come up with that dream and then it’s work to make that dream.” Thus, one’s pillow can be seen as just the first location of many steps involved in social advocacy. Where My Dream At? also references Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Beltré’s immigrant family’s relationship to the “American Dream,” and gender politics that define domestic spaces and fiber arts as feminine. “Part of my interest in working in fiber was to also think about the political as residing within the home,” Beltré explained to Seven Days’ Margaret Grayson in 2019, “and to think about, ‘How do politics function and resonate within the domestic setting?’” But these are not hard and fast rules, and the artist seeks to spark questions and conversations. Beltré believes her art lives and grows with time, the meanings shifting to meet the needs of different generations. Where My Dream At?’s soft pillow shape asks a question for the artist, but it also asks a question for the viewer. What is your dream? And what will it take to get there? In 2017, the Everson organized Seen and Heard: An Active Commemoration of Women’s Suffrage, an exhibition that explored the use of the arts as a catalyst for social change. The exhibition featured Beltré’s prints, drawings, and textiles, including Where My Dream At?, which the Everson acquired for its collection. Where My Dream At? is currently on display in A Legacy of Firsts: The Everson Collects, an exhibition that examines over one hundred years of the Museum’s collecting priorities, from the Museum’s earliest acquisitions in 1911 to work acquired in 2019.
-Kelli Fisher, Curatorial Intern
Sources:Burlington City Arts. “Mildred Beltre: Dream Work.” YouTube Video, 25:07. May 9, 2014. www.youtube.com/watch?v=LP3mMKryM5EDeCordova Museum. “Mildred Beltré.” Accessed June 6, 2020. https://decordova.org/mildred-beltr%C3%A9.Grayson, Margaret. “Mildred Beltré Considers Intersection of Art and Politics.” Seven Days, July 24, 2019. https://www.sevendaysvt.com/vermont/mildred-beltre-considers-intersection-of-art-and-politics/Content?oid=28056522.Manhattan Graphics Center. “Artist Talk: Mildren Beltré.” YouTube Video, 1:01:27. June 1, 2020. www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dc-Dimc9v1UMildred Beltré. “Mildred Beltré.” Accessed June 6, 2020. http://www.mildredbeltre.com/.The University of Vermont. “Mildred Beltré: Associate Professor, Drawing, Printmaking.” Accessed June 6, 2020. https://www.uvm.edu/cas/art/profiles/mildred-beltre.