The Writing in the Landscape

Carris Adams. Untitled (E’s), 2014. Oil and acrylic on canvas.

Chicago-based artist Carris Adams unpacks language through painting and drawing. In explaining her practice, Adams states: “I believe that systemic inequality is embedded in the landscape through various signs and signifiers. By sign, I am referring to the literal, symbolic or semiotic use of the word.” And just as important as the meaning of words is their subtext, or what she calls “between the in between.”

In particular, Adams finds herself drawn to images or objects that refer to blackness: “This can be ideas of blackness through history, celebration, remembrance, martyrdom, stereotypes and resilience.” She painted “Lady Mocha Boutique” after coming across a store for plus-sized women on the South Side.

While I applaud the small business owner and her exclamation that her body (and bodies like hers) are sexy and will continue to be sexy, I laugh at the name of the boutique because I can’t help but think of women of color being described as edible objects all the time. I’ve never heard of a white woman being describe as a Vanilla Latte.

The painting is featured among the artist’s selected works below, which are accompanied by a literary pairing of her choosing. By transforming everyday signs into art, Adams revisits the negative connotations of words associated with otherness and, instead, reveals “the beauty and resilience of people to recreate, build and love.”

— Introduction by Mimi Wong, Enumerate Editor


Carris Adams. Fivefifths, 2015. Charcoal on paper.

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
As we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows fo,
For the children, they mark, and the children they know
The Place where the sidewalk ends

— Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends


Carris Adams. The Center The Choice, 2015. Oil and acrylic on canvas.

He had told us then that most of us would die violently, and those who did not would be brought down to the level of beasts. Told us that there was no other choice but to run and run. The he was living testimony of someone who should have run. That in him- he did not say all this but we felt it- there was nothing but hatred for himself as well as contempt for us…As clearly as anything, he showed his hatred for himself and for us. He could teach any of us only one thing, and that one thing was flight.

— Ernest Gaines, A Lesson Before Dying


Carris Adams. MXMLK Deinstall, 2015. Paint and ink on wall.

That is not a hero. A hero does for others. He would do anything for people he loves, because he knows it would make their lives better… To them, you’re nothing but another nigger-no dignity, no heart, no love for your people. You can prove them wrong. A myth is an old lie that people believe in. White people believe that they’re better than anyone else on earth- and that’s a myth…

— Ernest Gaines, A Lesson Before Dying

Carris Adams. BBQ, 2016. 60” X 123”

Yes you know. You know, all right. That’s why you look down on me, because you know I lie. At wakes, at funerals, at weddings- yes, I lie. I lie at wakes and funerals to relieve pain. ‘Cause reading, writing and ‘rithmetic is not enough. You think that’s all they send you to school for? They sent you to school to relieve pain, to relieve hurt- and if you have to lie to do it, then you lie. You lie and you lie and you lie. She been lying to herself everyday of her life.. I’ve seen her hands bleed from picking cotton. I’ve seen the blisters from the hoe and the cane knife. And that’s the difference between you and me boy; that makes me the educated one, and you the gump. I know my people. I know what they gone through. I know they done cheated themself, lied to themself- hoping that one they all love and trust can come back and help relieve the pain.

— Ernest Gaines, A Lesson Before Dying

Carris Adams. Lady Mocha, 2016. 60” X 72”

This world has up and gone crazy I’m out here working trying to make it
Girl, it’s so rough in this city There ain’t no resting for the weary
So baby feel me, I need something to feel So my spirit can heal, babe

I need you to wrap them chocolate legs ’round me So when
I come home tonight, you’ll make everything alright
When you gon’ wrap them chocolate legs ’round me The memory of
my day will quickly just fade away When you come wrap them
chocolate legs ’round me Please baby, wrap them chocolate legs
’round me

Your cocoa skin against mine, babe Is all I need to help revive me
Just touch me and I feel pure, pure love You’re the only thing
I’m ever sure of, your love I’m sure of I need some reminding that
God is still, He’s still behind me So baby, come take my soul and
set me free

— Eric Benet, Chocolate Legs

Paper As Body

A Conversation Between Two Artists


“One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed”

Our Place In This World

“With my most recent iteration in Queer Icons, I have decided to give the models a chance to speak about their identity.”