JTF (just the facts): A total of 15 black-and-white and color photographs, framed in dark wood and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space and the entry area. Ten of the works are archival inkjet prints in artist’s frames, some with additional embedded prints, made between 2019 and 2021. Physical sizes range from 20×16 to 50×40 inches (or the reverse) and the works are available in editions of 3+2AP, 5+2AP, 8+2AP, or 10+2AP. The other 5 works are either inkjet prints or Instax prints, made in 2008, 2015, 2017, or 2018. These works are sized 4×6 or 5×7 inches, and are unique. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: For immigrant families coming to the United States, the American Dream remains a powerful force of mythology and motivation. Even though persistent inequalities have tarnished the promise (and reality) of that dream to some degree, America continues to unshakably represent the land of opportunity. Regardless of where you came from or who you are (or were), the chance to change your life for the better exists here. And unlike in other countries, where any number of social and cultural factors might permanently limit your options, America remains remarkably results driven – put in the hard work and make the sacrifices, and prosperity and happiness for you and your family can be methodically built.
For so many first and second generation immigrant families, the goals and milestones of the American dream are surprisingly similar. Find a good job, work hard and save money, buy a house or some land, have children (or grandchildren) in America, invest in the deep education of those children, encourage them to follow professional careers (like medicine, engineering, science, and the law), support their families, and then relentlessly keep that cycle turning. It’s a formula that has worked for immigrants from all over the world, and one that undeniably still works today.
Widline Cadet’s family is originally from Haiti, and her first solo show in New York dives into the rhythms of her family’s spilt-between-two-places experience in America. Small personal snapshots marking birthdays, the birth of children, and other multi-generational family moments dot the walls of the gallery space, essentially providing the personal and chronological scaffolding of her life here. Some of these snapshots are then physically embedded in larger images, creating connections and commentaries, in a manner reminiscent of Deana Lawson’s tucking of small prints into frame edges or Leslie Hewitt’s layering of prints and ephemera on top of each other. In particular, suburban landmarks like a backyard with a picket fence and new plants, a swimming pool at night, and a dense sweep of flowers are interrupted and made more resonant by the introduction of a smiling graduation photo, a mother holding a newborn, and a gathering of happy children sitting on a bed, the markers of success for family and home intertwining. The show’s dual language title further emphasizes these layers of hopes, with the sacrifices and achievements of one generation passed down to the next as nested expectations.
A group of black-and-white portraits extrapolates these family cadences and aspirations into the future. Shiny dresses and sparkly tops seem to signal the arrival of hoped-for success, with an older woman (perhaps a mother or aunt) looking confidently regal near a bouquet of lilies and the artist herself seen alone and then again with another young woman nestled in the bougainvillea (with Cadet subtly holding the shutter release in both pictures). The young women’s faces appear alternately wary and quietly self-assured, as if this artistic visualization of the future is still a bit uncertain.
Another pair of images takes the construction of identity in a slightly more conceptual direction, using metal scaffolding to stage hanging backdrops. In one image, a red gingham backdrop hangs behind two faceless women in similar gingham dresses, their bodies bent over and doubled by multiple exposures. The matching patterns create a disappearing effect, where the feeling of acceptance and belonging wavers back and forth. In a second, a young woman stands knee deep in a vast watery lake, with shiny surfaces and misty sunset fabrics interleaved with visual memories. Here the search for new identity imperfectly mixes old and new into an expressive palette of choices, slowly submerging whatever came before.
As an introductory statement from an early career photographer, Cadet’s show smartly offers a range of interwoven ideas and promising approaches, all aimed at facets of defining a life as a Black immigrant woman in contemporary America. Shaped by the American dream and rooted in her own personal history, her photographs resonate with the layered tensions of dreams, ambitions, and hard won achievements, where each individual step forward both stands on the shoulders of those who came before and carries the weight of their expectations.
Collector’s POV: The larger works in this show are priced between $2000 and $8000, based on size. The small prints are NFS. Cadet’s work has no secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.