Recommended viewing, along with the new documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution. Incredible to see how a movement that provided a radical view of social transformation came about and how it was slowly but effectively crushed by the United States government.
Thousands of people from around the world attended the World Social Forum in Tunis at the end of March. Security was up due to the horrific attack at the Bardo Museum only the week before, but spirits and energies were also high. Participants with their WSF badges, both Tunisian and international, were identifiable throughout the city, along with young Tunisian volunteers wearing blue vests. When we braved the crowded metro to get to the opening march, we squeezed in next to politicians and community organizers from across the globe.
Throughout the hundreds of activities, translation was a constant challenge. Impressively, the World Social Forum organizers tried to have at least a few volunteer translators at each event. But technical issues abounded, speakers spoke too quickly for the translators, translations were understandably imperfect, and often it was a random participant at the last minute who offered to translate, periodically whispering back to a group of people who happened to speak French or English or Spanish or Arabic. One of the most striking aspects of the Forum was this constant flurry of languages among people united by common interests.
On the first day I went to a #BlackLivesMatter event organized by the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance. Activists from Jackson, Miami, and Oakland shared experiences of racial injustice, especially in light of the recent police killings of black men, and efforts to join forces for justice across the United States. One Asian American woman talked about the movement #Asians4BlackLives and how Asians in the U.S. have been used in a “divide-and-conquer” strategy within a white supremacist system, rendering alliances across identity groups all the more important.
What made this event even more interesting was the fact that most of the participants were Brazilians from black justice movements in Brazil. My Brazilian colleague ended up translating from Portuguese to English and back again as they asked questions of the American activists, eager to make connections between what they had just heard and their own experiences. They expanded the debate as well: “How do your movements treat capitalism? What about economic justice?”, asked one Brazilian. “If you get rid of white supremacy without addressing capitalism, you perpetuate an oppressive system,” responded an American activist, who forms part of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (His own reflection on the World Social Forum can be found here.)
It really seems like talk of gentrification is everywhere lately. It may be that I’ve just been paying more attention to it, but I think if you live somewhere like London or San Francisco, it’s pretty hard not to notice the changes taking place. It was cool to see a video like this on a mainstream site like BuzzFeed, of a former Mission resident, Kai, who has been evicted from two different homes in San Francisco. While it doesn’t go too deep into the structural causes of gentrification, it does highlight the massive displacement of black and Latino communities in San Francisco, as well as the California policies that have facilitated this. Kai comments on the way the city is segregated by race and class and notes, “the wealth is directly related to people’s displacement from their homes”.
The topic of gentrification was even addressed in a recent Saturday Night Live sketch, which I think brilliantly comments on the intersection of gentrification and race. Why is it so funny to see black men on the corner discussing spin class and the new artisanal mayonnaise shop around the corner? Maybe because we know deep down that the supposed positive effects of gentrification (if 8 dollar mayonnaise can be considered a positive effect) rarely benefit anyone other than white, middle- to upper-class residents.
As (hopefully) more and more debate about gentrification unfolds, I really hope we see fewer people claiming that this is an inevitable process or that, you know, “it’s really all the hipsters’ fault”. We need to dig further into how our current economic system encourages eviction and displacement along race and class lines.
Try to look at this vision and list of demands and tell me they aren’t clear, concise, and that they don’t represent concrete steps that could be taken to actually begin to address the grip of structural racism across the United States.
(Re-posted from http://fergusonaction.com/demands/.)
OUR VISION FOR A NEW AMERICA
WE WANT JUSTICE FOR MICHAEL BROWN. WE WANT FREEDOM FOR OUR COMMUNITIES
We Want an End to all Forms of Discrimination and the Full Recognition of our Human Rights
The United States Government must acknowledge and address the structural violence and institutional discrimination that continues to imprison our communities either in a life of poverty and/or one behind bars. We want the United States Government to recognize the full spectrum of our human rights and its obligations under international law.
We Want An Immediate End To Police Brutality And the Murder Of Black, Brown & All Oppressed People
Every 28 hours a black person in the United States is killed by someone employed or protected by the government of the United States. Other communities are also criminalized, targeted, attacked and brutalized. We want an immediate end to state sanctioned violence against our communities.
We Want Full Employment For Our People
Every individual has the human right to employment and a living wage. Inability to access employment and fair pay continues to marginalize our communities, ready us for imprisonment, and deny us of our right to a life with dignity.
We Want Decent Housing Fit For The Shelter Of Human Beings
Our communities have a human right to access quality housing that protects our families and allows for our children to be free from harm.
[Originally published in I Rez Therefore I Am.]
I imagine that walking into the current Invisible exhibition at London’s Hayward Gallery is a little like what walking into French avant-garde artist Yves Klein’s Le Vide or “The Void” in Paris back in 1958 would have been. For that piece, officially titled The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State into Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility, 3000 visitors were led into a white-walled room that, apart from a large cabinet, was totally empty. Knowing that the exhibition consisted of “Art about the Unseen,” I walked into Invisible wondering what it was I should be looking for, and whether a gallery full of “invisible” art would be worth the effort it seemed to imply. As I entered the second room of the exhibition, a jaded gallery attendant joked that I should watch out for the invisible door. Humoring him by turning an invisible doorknob, I soon realized that I’d need to experience the art in much the same way—with a little bit of humor and patience. And that is the common thread running through Invisible: works that bring us to acknowledge our pre-conceived notions and limitations about what it means to experience art.
The exhibition—in which pieces are presented chronologically in various rooms—begins with Yves Klein himself, whose art often revolved around a fascination with nothingness and the immaterial. In Zone de Sensibilité Picturale Immatérielle (Zones of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility), begun in 1959, Klein sold “empty spaces” throughout the city of Paris in exchange for gold. Upon receipt of the gold he gave the buyer a certificate of ownership of the space, though in a second part of the performance he threw half of the gold into the river Seine if the buyer agreed to set fire to the certificate. “Through this act,” states one description of the piece, “a perfect, definitive immaterialization is achieved, as well as the absolute inclusion of the buyer in the immaterial…. Klein presents capitalist trading strategies and illuminates his ideas about the indefinable, incalculable value of art.”* It is a ritual that at once allows the buyer to experience the “Void” that was showcased in his earlier exhibition, and that shows the ultimate impossibility of obtaining ownership over such a space. (Even with a highly valuable material such as gold.)
Other works are more obviously “invisible,” such as American artist Robert Barry’s Electromagnetic Energy Field (1968) in which an electromagnetic energy transmitter sends out invisible waves of energy. We can’t see the energy field, we may not be able to tell that it is there, and yet it unquestionably exists. Inevitably, it made me think of all the other forces in the universe which are invisible to humans, but which have a profound effect on our world regardless. Some are physical, like gravity; others are even less easily categorized, like human emotions. Similarly ambiguous, Tom Friedman’s 1000 hours of staring (medium: “Stare on paper”) appears to consist of a rather large, though utterly blank, white sheet of paper. Of course, seeing this framed and displayed on a museum wall can be a little frustrating. But the more I thought about it, the more the idea of using “stare” as a medium made complete and total sense. Many artists use bodily fluids or other unconventional materials to create works of art; just because you can’t see the effect on paper, why is a stare different? Staring at the paper, glimpsing my own reflection in the glass, immediately evoked the 1,000 hours of intent and focus the artist spent looking at this same sheet of paper, a sheet of paper that will in turn be stared at fleetingly by thousands of people. Love it or hate it—the concept is powerful.
A similar piece consisting of frustratingly-blank paper is by American artist Glenn Ligon. Though in this case, the emotion of frustration is probably central to understanding He tells me I am his own. As the description notes, Ligon, whose work often reflects his experience as an African American gay man, tries to capture the white bias of literature and Hollywood with a photograph of “whiteness.” The blank piece of photo paper reflects the blinding whiteness that pervades the majority of American popular culture; the absent photograph simultaneously brings to mind all the other images that are absent from Hollywood, as the bias of the camera shuts out darker skin tones in favor of glossy all-encompassing whiteness. To me, it seemed staring at this piece was one way to access the complex emotion of being faced with this reality.
“Invisible” art, like any other art form, may evoke a vast array of emotions and concepts. Comments on consumption and the “value” of art, using unseen forces like electromagnetic energy as art media, and highlighting existing racist structures are only a few examples. Though certain aspects of the art in this exhibition are often invisible, they are by no means unperceivable. Quite the opposite, in fact, as exploring what is absent may have endlessly more possibilities for the human imagination than focusing on what is present. As the artist Robert Barry stated in 1968, “Nothing seems to me the most potent thing in the world.”
Invisible is showing at the Hayward Gallery until August 5th.
* Berggruen, Olivier, Max Hollein, and Ingrid Pfeiffer (eds.) Yves Klein. Hatje Cantz, 2004.