Technologies have begun to bring the state sponsored violence meted out to black people to a larger consciousness. This violence has been long known to black and poor people, but it is now present to the dominant culture.
Today, you can show black people being shot to death on television.
You can see a video, repeatedly (or even as a background image) as two people discuss a man being strangled or shot. To death. The prohibition of showing the deaths of victims is waived when the victim is black. Their last words are broadcast. Their bodies left in the street as a warning, or as a provocation. You cannot imagine seeing the victims of Columbine or hearing the tapes of Sandy Hook, but for some reason, you can see a black man killed in on your television. You can sit in a pub, a waiting room, your well appointed home with its flat screen tv and see someone killed. These images are public and private and downright quotidian.
The dominant culture experiences this phenomenon as something “New.” They refuse to believe that what they are experiencing is the exact way things have always been done. They want to believe that it is an anomaly. This requires the dominant culture to deny that the basis of America’s relationship to black people is violence. It has always been violence placed in the service of a domestic identity.
I chose to make work that marries contemporary and historical violence to the domestic impulse. Publicly created and shared photographs of violence against black people now inhabit contemporary frames. Using frames designed for keepsakes or familial milestones, siting these on a 1960s era Andre Bus coffee table against various hues, the work reconciles a violent history with the contemporary spectacle of state violence within a domestic sphere.
These are the Family Pictures we have long pretended do not exist.
They are the obscene excess of the spectacle of violence played out in public for consumption and control.
Family Pictures was first exhibited at Gallery Kayafas in Boston October 21-November 26, 2016. I have deep gratitude to Arlette Kayafas for allowing me to show this work with her.
In addition, we created a "reading room" in a section of the gallery, with texts that directly influenced Family Pictures. The neon was designed by me and Carmine Saccardo and fabricated by Carmine at NENeon.
Reading room texts
Going to Meet the Man (stories) by James Baldwin
Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America by James Allen, essays by Hilton Als, John Lewis, Leon F. Litwack, and James Allen
Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror by Equal Justice Initiative
Black Misery by Langston Hughes
The Inaugural Address 2009 by Barack Obama
Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black People in America from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon
Blacks by Gwendolyn Brooks
Sambo: The Rise and Demise of an American Jester by Joseph Boskin
Riot and Remembrance: America’s Worst Race Riot and Its Legacy by James S. Hirsch
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
Violence: Six Sideways Reflections by Slavoj Žižek
The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter
Free at Last a History of the Civil Rights Movement and Those Who Died in the Struggle by Sara Bullard
On Lynchings by Ida B. Wells-Barnett
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and Other Works by Frederick Douglass
Family Pictures was shown in New Orleans, Louisiana in P.S. Satellites a project of Prospect. 4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp. November 18, 2017 - February 25, 2018. The work was installed in the Backyard of a home in the Tremé, I am deeply grateful to Lauren, Harry and Sebastian Alvarez for allowing their home to be the host for this work.