Though obviously the “semi-” is important here: this article has been delayed several weeks by a combination of overwork in my day job and a bout of my old friend, Depression. Writing, it turns out, is Very Hard.Much to my disgust, that which was politically topical six months ago remains politically topical now. As Zoe Quinn put it on her blog, August never ends, and my previous article on Gamergate and Wikipedia is just as relevant now as when the story of the hostile takeover of the open access encyclopedia first broke.
Unending, too, is the ongoing crisis of police brutality, white supremacy, and state sanctioned murder. This article in a sense is a response to a protest that happened here in Toronto, my adopted city, back in December, but the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement has not diminished over the course of six months. Far from it. Every few days news of another atrocity comes in, while the political establishment and corporate media continues to turn a blind eye to the crisis where it can, and vilify them where it cannot.
This article is triangulated upon three different sources of information that I want to put at the front and center of my analysis for this week. In a sense, this article is a vehicle for these resources, which are the real voices I want to elevate here, but while my role here is something akin to a curator of this information, I do want to try to contextualize these a little bit with my sense of the broader art world and the world of public art in particular. As a white writer, it’s not my job to speak for black writers, but I might be able to use my privileged access to the (white) art world to dig into some of the behaviors of that world and the contradictions and racist practices that underlie those behaviors… and the actions of liberal art and culture patrons.
So, with this in mind I want to start, before the cut, by putting the three resources I will be working from front and center.
If you can only pick one article to read through today, please read one of these.
The first article, by Kirsten West Savali from The Root, is about a recent art exhibit which features a mannequin dressed to look like Michael Brown’s body. Obviously, trigger warnings for… everything related to that. This article drags the thought process behind this piece over the coals, labeling it a “revictimization” of Brown and his family carried out by a white artist.
The second is a statement by artist and activist Bree Newsome. Newsome, with a group of collaborators, engaged in a daring takedown of the confederate flag in front of South Carolina’s capitol building several weeks ago, and her statement eloquently articulates the issues at stake in what some see as “vandalism.”
Finally, I want to link to the facebook page of the Toronto iteration of Black Lives Matter, which has been my main source of information for actions happening in the city. This source in particular is important because it seems like many white commentators perceive this to be a uniquely American problem. This organization and others like it demonstrate the ways in which the movement transcends national boundaries to challenge white supremacy in a variety of locations. In particular I think it’s worth noting the response to the recent police shooting of a mentally ill Somalian man, and the way in response the group has highlighted the particular vulnerability of the mentally ill to police brutality. This represents one of the most admirable aspects of the movement: the way in which the movement has centered itself upon those who are most at risk--the mentally ill, the homeless, the queer, and those who face similar difficulties.
This final resource is particularly important because it leads into the main event that this article revolves around: a protest in Toronto last December. This protest started with a rally at city hall and a march to Dundas Square, one of Toronto’s largest and most garish commercial hubs. The march concluded with a die-in which took place in the center of the square. Not in the center of the sidewalk, but in the center of the intersection, the bodies of the protestors blocking the street. At the conclusion of the protest, the words BLACK LIVES MATTER were spraypainted on the road, and participants were invited to leave their signs around the spraypaint.
From my perspective, this protest represents a temporary artistic intervention into the space, and the difference in reception between this form of artistic expression and more culturally sanctioned forms of “protest art” exposes the hypocrisies of the white liberal art establishment.