Oh, Gods of
Dust and Rainbows

Launched in 2018, FRONT International is a contemporary art exhibition that presents artist commissions, performances, films, and public programs across Northeast Ohio every three years.

The 2022 edition, Oh, Gods of Dust and Rainbows, embraced art as an agent of transformation, a mode of healing, and a therapeutic process. The title is an homage to Two Somewhat Different Epigrams,” a 1957 poem by Langston Hughes, who moved to Cleveland in his childhood and maintained an artistic connection to the region. A tender, brutal, and provocative prayer, the poem meditates on the inseparability of joy and suffering:

Two Somewhat Different Epigrams” (1957)
Oh, God of dust and rainbows, help us see
That without dust the rainbow would not be.
I look with awe upon the human race
And God, Who sometimes spits right in its face.
Langston Hughes, Installation view at the FRONT PNC Exhibition Hub at Transformer Station, Facsimiles of multiple drafts of Two Somewhat Different Epigrams,” ca. 1955 – 1960. Digital prints. Langston Hughes Papers. James Weldon Johnson Collection in the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. © Estate of Langston Hughes. Photography by Field Studio.

Amid a time of ongoing tragedy and loss, FRONT 2022 explored how artmaking offers the possibility to transform and heal us — as individuals, as groups, and as a society. Spanning over thirty sites in Cleveland, Akron, and Oberlin, the exhibition bore witness to the region’s past and present scars, from the environmental degradation caused by industrial production to police violence and urban fracture. Yet alongside interlocking public and personal crises, healing is contemporary Cleveland’s biggest industry; furthermore, organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous (founded in Akron) or Art Therapy Studio (one of the nation’s first such independent institutions) represent influential models for collective care.

Learning from these and other local precedents, Oh, Gods of Dust and Rainbows emphasized collaborative creative processes, partnering closely with institutions across the region, and connecting artists with local communities. Emerging over multiple timeframes, FRONT 2022 approached the slow process of curating as a way to leave lasting traces upon civic and cultural infrastructures, while also embracing the ephemeral glimpses of beauty that art — like a rainbow — can offer.

Renée Green, Installation view at moCa Cleveland. Courtesy of the artist, Free Agent Media, and Bortolami Gallery, New York. © Renée Green. Photography by Field Studio.

The exhibition featured over one hundred regional, national, and international artists working across painting, drawing, sculpture, textiles, ceramics, photography, video, text, performance, and other media. Ongoing exhibitions and public installations worked in tandem with live programs. Starting with how daily practice allows individual artists to cultivate liberation, the triennial also demonstrated how aesthetic pleasure — sharing joy through movement, music, craft, and color — brings different people together. Finally, the exhibition suggested ways that contemporary art can speak with power, showing us how to recognize and reimagine the invisible structures that govern our lives.

In the following video, FRONT 2022 Artistic Director Prem Krishnamurthy speaks about the themes and inspiration that guide Oh, Gods of Dust and Rainbows,” the second edition of the triennial. With a focus on art as an agent of transformation, a mode of healing, and a therapeutic process, Krishnamurthy discusses some of the artworks appearing in the 2022 exhibition. Viewers are then lead through a series of participatory exercises, encouraging them to reflect both individually and collaboratively on these ideas: