Rights and Wrong. (Grapevine)

By Dawsey, Jill | Afterimage, July-August 2002 | Go to article overview

Rights and Wrong. (Grapevine)


Dawsey, Jill, Afterimage


Right2Fight Sarah Lawrence college, Bronxville, New York April 27

Dread Scott, Sign of the Times, 1999.

The blue police barriers lining the lawn at Sarah Lawrence College are something of a curious site: on this clear spring morning, on this pristine campus, students lounge about, listening to music by DJ Ski Hi. With no one to restrain, the barriers are rendered functionless. But come closer. Instead of "Police Line-Do Not Cross," one encounters a series of names and dates: "Malcolm Ferguson, March 2, 2000," "Gideon Bush August 30, 1999," "Amadou Diallo, February 4, 1999. Each Barricade is a memorial, a tombstone, inscribed with the name of a victim of police brutality. This art installation by Adam de Croix was part of Right2Fight, an all (lay interdisciplinary event, gathering artists, activists and victims' families to respond to police violence in the U.S. and abroad. The event was organized by urban historian Dominique Malaquais and new media artist Trebor Scholz in the wake of the recent reversal of Indictments of three police officers convicted in the torture of Abner Loulma in 1997. Including installat ions, Web art, film and video, graphic work, poetry, dance and music, the day concluded with a benefit concert for the Ella Baker Center-- for Human Rights by the Afrobeat band Antibalas and renowned South African poet Lesego Rampolokeng. Right2Fight collectively engages art's capacity to testify, to commemorate and to incite action, imploring us to look again at the excessive force that too often characterizes law enforcement.

Beyond de Croix's barricades stood a different kind of memorial- Emily jacir's "Memorial to 418 Villages Which Were Destroyed, Depopulated, and Occupied by Israel in 1948." "Dayr Yasin," "Jarash," "Oalunya"-these are not the names of individuals, but villages, hand-stitched by jacir and numerous volunteers onto the cloth walls of a tent modeled on those that housed Palestinian refugees exiled from their homes after the state of Israel's foundation. Here, the question of police violence against individuals as in de Croix's work opens onto the policing of borders and the violence of neighboring nations. Though Right2Fight primarily addresses the brutalizing and criminalization of the urban poor in the U.S., it asks us to consider systems of policing on a global scale, especially the increased blurring between institutions of law enforcement and the military.

Inside the student center, activist groups such as the October 22 Coalition and the NYC Police Watch have set up information tables and the walls are covered with posters and graphic works like Dread Scott's Sign of the Times (1999). On a yellow street sign, Scott emblazons the blocky silhouette of a cop shooting a barrage of bullets into a figure whose arms are raised in surrender. "Danger: Police in Area," it reads. In a similar tactical vein, Australian artist Deborah Kelly employs the language of advertising in an image that depicts an improbable homicide scene; the outline of a heterosexual couple is traced on the ground to remind us that straights are rarely the target of sexually-movitvated attacks.

The video selections at Right2Fight were particularly effective in highlighting the relations between violence, the effects of media, and the testimonial capacities of video. It was a video tape, after all, that first put police violence on trial, and on the American public's radar screen, with the Rodney King beating. (Uncannily, Right2Fight coincided with the tenth anniversary of the verdict that sparked the LA riots.) Liz Canner and Julia Meltzer's 1993 video documentary, State of Emergency: Inside the Los Angeles Police Department, which examines the systemic racism of the LAPD through interviews with officers, still feels utterly current in light of recent cases. …

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