Late Afternoon Poem takes the form of a booklet, but it is also a painting and a piece of writing. To create it, Adnan folded a long piece of paper accordion-style and covered one side of it with a lyrical watercolor inspired by the colors and light of northern California, where she was then living. The luscious colors are overlapped and interspersed with three questions in the form of a poem that shift the tone of the work from reverie to urgency: “Why is a newsman caught in a / crossfire / while reporting something / he does not care / to know?—Why is spring planted as / a flower / in a helmet or under a car / on the highway?—Why is a solar ray burning / my eye when / the sky still lies / in ice?”
These questions reflect the heated moment when the work was made, September 1968, during the Vietnam War and immediately following the worldwide unrest associated with the May 1968 student protests, the Prague Spring, and other social and political upheavals. Adnan’s booklet provides no answers but shows how world conflicts can seep into everything we see and do—the sheet of paper in front of us, the view from the window, the colors of the sunset. It is a lyrical reminder that to take part in the world is to think of the humans caught in its crises and, above
all, to ask questions.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)