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This first collection echoes the uncompromising call for antiracism efforts and the abolition of structural oppression in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. The second collection explores the struggles and hopes of being a person of color in America, the emotional tides between longing and belonging as one journeys from a place of familiarity and comfort into the foreign and unknown. The series concludes with a collection of presentations that shed light on ways we can increase our awareness of important social and cultural issues and how communities come together to question and engage in meaningful conversations about our differences.
Listen to what past residents have to say, about: The many forms of defiance and reclamation used to disrupt racial biases. How one visualizes the invisible, the inequalities, the liminal space between myth and truth. What the modern day slave system looks like. How we transform the criminalization of public spaces into a generative place for people of color to be seen and heard on the streets.
Everywhere African-Americans looked, the state was not only impervious to their suffering but an accessory to the crime.” — Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
In moments such as these, I retreat (that is, withdraw to a quiet secluded place) with art in its various forms. Nina Simone called to me; I responded: Minnesota Goddam. Georgia Goddam. New York Goddam. Texas Goddam. Arkansas Goddam. Arizona Goddam. (Fill in your state) Goddam.
I resolve to make more art that creates space for retreat (that is, a change to one’s decisions, plans, or attitude, as a result of critique), reflection, and redemption.
I draw in public. My interactions with policing bodies compelled me to investigate current-day and historical surveillance trends, which point to systemic mistrust of black and brown people in public space. I engage in conversations with people who approach me when I sketch because the notion of someone drawing is inviting, but in fact, the over-occurrence of interactions I have with authority shows how difficult it can be for black and brown bodies to be at leisure in America.
During this time of COVID 19, I have felt a lot of anxiety, but in some ways I also wonder if this shutdown, this new way we are living, will allow for something new to develop. I wonder about what possibilities it might open up. These last few weeks, I have been heartened to see masses of people taking to the streets to speak out for Black Life, for Black Trans Life, against racist policing and the health, wealth and housing inequality that has existed in this country since it was founded on slavery and genocide. This is important work, and I hope this moment propels forward meaningful and fundamental changes. This summer the Brooklyn Hi Art Machine celebrates our ten-year anniversary, and we look forward to figuring out how we can be on the street together, creating and keeping each other safe as we continue to build community. My work has always been about examining social relationships, and we are now at a moment where relationships of deep inequality are being reconsidered and reimagined, and hopefully rebuilt.
White supremacy is a social inheritance by design and it penetrates every facet of our hyper-modern lives, from basic etiquette to complex technological advances. During this time and beyond, I urge white people to replace the resounding sentiment of: “I’m uncomfortable with my privilege,” with critical questions such as: “How do I identify white supremacy, my participation to uphold it and my benefits from it?” And, “How can I dismantle white privilege, particularly my own?” I further urge that, in addition to fortifying a robust understanding of the inextricable impact of Black Americans’ contribution to American wealth and identity at-large, that there is also a commitment to deep research on one’s own ethnic legacy to the construct of whiteness and one’s own genealogical relationship to the perpetuation of violence, fear, and oppression.
As an emerging visual artist, my reflection upon the current anti-black, racist, socio-political moment in America comes in the form of a visual artwork that specifically responds to and was prompted by Breonna Taylor’s murder perpetrated by three white cops in Louisville, Kentucky. I made this mask—A BLACK WOMAN WAS SILENCED TODAY—in honor of Taylor’s birthday on June 5, as well as to acknowledge the systematic silencing of black women resulting from (at the very least) violence, disenfranchisement, invisibility, devaluation, and death.
Expanding my thoughts on this socio-political moment more broadly, the United States currently finds itself mired in societal discord due to the fact that the overarching element of the Civil War has never been resolved: white supremacy and the perpetuation of the refusal of an empowered, white regime to view the black body as human and equal in both integrity and value to themselves. Thus we continue to fight an informal, underlying, and systemic internal war that produces outrageous outcomes such as the recent killings of Ahmad Arbery on February 23, Breonna Taylor on March 13, and George Floyd on May 25, 2020.
Quenna Lene Berrett
I wrote and performed this piece in what feels now like an almost entirely different world, but the issues raised are even more present, visible, palpable in our nation’s public consciousness today. Now, more than ever, not only are Black people, but non-black POC and white accomplices are stepping up to help us create images of justice, to truly imagine what it means for our bodies to be free. It is only through this active and collective and radical imagining, through trying and failing and trying again, will we be able to manifest that vision and push it forward into a better, more just, future.