Artist Steffani Jemison reflects on Hansberry’s What Use Are Flowers?
Artist Steffani Jemison reflects on Lorraine Hansberry’s What Use Are Flowers? for the Performing at a Distance project of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City.
Performing at a Distance is an artist project that unfolds one letter at a time, with contributions from artists whose work is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art. Developed by the MOMA Department of Media and Performance in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic, the weekly series explores how artists envision the future. This week MOMA has asked Brooklyn artist Steffani Jemison to contribute a letter; Jemison reflects on Lorraine Hansberry’s What Use Are Flowers?
In her unpublished work What Use Are Flowers? Lorraine Hansberry imagines the world after the end of the world. An elderly man, having rejected society to live as a hermit in a forest for decades, emerges to find that he is the only adult alive....Confronted by a confused child, he struggles to explain what flowers are for.
What use are flowers? I have been thinking a lot about what flowers are for. I have been feeling, most of the time, more like a flower than a pot. I have been wondering what use I can possibly have.”
What Use are Flowers? is included in Les Blancs: The Collected Last Plays of Lorraine Hansberry along with Les Blancs and The Drinking Gourd. First published in 1972 by Random House with a foreword by Julius Lester and with critical backgrounds by Robert Nemiroff for each play, the 1994 Vintage Books edition features an introduction by Margaret B. Wilkerson and a foreword by Jewell Handy Gresham Nemiroff. Information about various efforts to produce the play as a live performance and on television can be found in the Lorraine Hansberry Papers at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.