Jan 4, 2023

Twice Removed

Black Pen writer Saherla Osman's poem in response to What Matters Most: Photographs of Black Life.

Black Pen Saherla Osman WMM image

Unknown photographer. [Five men in suits posing in front of backdrop], 1981. Colour instant print [Polaroid Type 108], overall: 10.2 × 8.5 cm. Art Gallery of Ontario. Fade Resistance Collection. Purchase, with funds donated by Martha LA McCain, 2018. © Art Gallery of Ontario. 2018/623

What Matters Most: Photographs of Black Life enshrines the role of the family photograph in shaping Black identities. Co-curated by artist Zun Lee and AGO Curator, Photography, Sophie Hackett, the exhibition of over 500 instant prints drawn from the AGO’s Fade Resistance Collection underscores the moments that matter most in the everyday – births, deaths, portraits, graduations and family gatherings among them.

We commissioned six graduates of Black Pen, a Toronto-based literary program for emerging Black-identifying writers, to compose personal responses to one or more of the photographs on view in a style of their choosing. The Black Pen alumni were first given a guided tour of the exhibition, which proved inspiring for each of them, and the results blew us away.

A moving contribution by African-American poet and essayist Dawn Lundy Martin to the What Matters Most catalogue inspired this commission. She writes about the implications of the Fade Resistance Collection being acquired and placed on view at a major art museum. She then turns her reflections inward, analyzing two of her family photographs and revealing the complex narratives they represent.

Take a moment to read this poem by Saherla Osman below. 

Twice Removed 

By Saherla Osman 

You’re here, you survived

The highs and hellos of yesterday, now only shadows passed

Kinship doesn't mean skinship 

Lows bring more goodbyes 

Silence in places of laughter and conversation 

I stay up to hear the darkness sigh

I’ll wish them, I'll miss them, it's too cold to vent 

I peeled at the thought I held close to my chest

Leather jacket, Paisley tie, Jheri curl 


Edges faded 

Paled in colour 

Tawny backdrop, warm disguise 

Who is who, I do not know 

Names to faces, some gone home 

Hidden away 

Under beds, inside drawers 

Friction ridges

Moisture and grease 

Frozen in time 

Avoiding illumination


Saherla Osman is a writer from Toronto, Ontario. She is always exploring and learning new writing styles but mainly writes young adult fiction and poetry. She loves experimenting with writing structure allowing the reader to visualize what they are reading. 

Black Pen is a Toronto-based literary program for emerging Black-identifying writers, founded by Nia Centre for the Arts. The program’s first six graduates published GRIOT: Sojourn into the Dark in 2022, their first chapbook of fiction and non-fiction. Read the writings of Yvvana Yeboah Duku, Adeola Egbeyemi, Onyka Gairey, Saherla Osman, Kais Padamshi and Omi Blue, all on Foyer.


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