Friday, January 13, 2017


Dread Scott photographed in Brooklyn on October 3, 2016. ©KATHERINE MCMAHON
Dread Scott photographed in Brooklyn on October 3, 2016. 
For the first time in quite a while in America, people (on both sides of the political fence) are holding up signs. In a world flooded with pictures, a world where, for decades, the intellectual and populist conversation has focused on image saturation, and where advertisers seek to gain and retain audience attention with flashing GIFs and innovative visual marketing techniques—analog signs have regained some of their poignancy, and impact. In the raucous election year that just ended, we were reminded of the power of the placard, the banner, the Sharpie-scrawled scrap of cardboard taped to a stick, whether it says “Make America Hate Again” or “Women for Trump.”
What could this mean for the art object? This past July, several days after the shootings of two black men by police officers—Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana—a banner appeared in the Chelsea gallery district in New York. In white lettering on a black ground, it read, A MAN WAS LYNCHED BY POLICE YESTERDAY, and it fluttered for a week in front of the Jack Shainman Gallery on West 20th Street. Like a cultural signpost of our digital day, it ricocheted around the art world, and then on to the wider world, via the Instagram account of MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach, who re-posted a video of the artist Dread Scott installing it. The banner is an update of a flag that read, A MAN WAS LYNCHED YESTERDAY, and that the NAACP hung outside its Manhattan headquarters after each such death between 1920–1938.
Dread Scott should be a familiar name to those versed in landmark Supreme Court decisions—as well as recent art history. In 1989, Scott, then a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and still known by his birth name, Scott Tyler, showed an art installation called What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag? (1988) at the school. In the artwork, he placed an American flag on the floor in front of a photomontage of South Korean students burning U.S. flags and of coffins draped with U.S. flags. The most direct route to the photographs involved trampling on the stars and stripes. Gallery audiences had the choice of whether or not to take that transgressive step; if they did, they could access a logbook, where they could participate in the piece by writing down their reactions.
Subsequent outcry from the public, massive protests by veterans, constant media coverage, the Illinois state legislature defunding the SAIC (save for $1), and even the condemnation of then newly elected President George H. W. Bush were all part of a nationwide examination of the exact question that Scott posited: “What is the proper way to display [the] flag?” The controversy unfolded a couple of months in advance of a case before the Supreme Court, Texas v. Johnson, that would ultimately favor the First Amendment rights of the individual to desecrate the flag over the symbolic resonance maintained when the federal government protected the flag from abuse. Seventeen years later, as the Black Lives Matter movement unfolds, Scott continues his protest into the 21st century through political art.
Dread Scott, What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?, 1988. COURTESY THE ARTIST
Dread Scott, What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?, 1988. 
Imet Scott in a Chinese restaurant in New York on a muggy day in August. The artist, ganglier than he appears in photos, sported a dramatic Mohawk. For a man at the center of two landmark sociopolitical confrontations between artist and state, you might expect him to be grave, but he smiled after we talked about being in the midst of the hottest summer on record. “Ecologically,” he said, “that is a truly dangerous thing both now and in the future. Do the Right Thing opens with Sam Jackson saying, ‘It’s hot.’ And he’s not just talking about the weather. I think that that is very true, it was a very hot, long summer, . . . yes, quite literally, but more shrewdly, metaphorically.”
Scott installed his banner outside Shainman’s gallery on July 7, as part of artists Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman’s exhibition, “For Freedoms,” a show for their super PAC of the same name. (Earlier this year I myself flirted with the idea of forming a PAC based on combining my initials with an artist’s, but it hadn’t happened. Like so many, I chose to show my solidarity with Scott by re-posting A Man Was Lynched By Police Yesterday on Facebook.) Scott made the banner in 2015, in response to the killing of South Carolina resident Walter Scott during a traffic stop. Later on the same day that he installed it at the gallery, five police officers were shot dead in Dallas during an anti-police-brutality demonstration there, which led Fox News to do a report on Scott’s banner, headlining it, “Art gallery stands by anti-police violence flag in wake of deadly Dallas shooting.” In response to the Fox story, Scott and the gallery both got a series of ugly emails. “I hope someone lynches you. You are not an artist you’re a piece of shit,” read one of the worst.
Shainman became concerned for the safety of his staff. “It is the kind of work that you can’t ignore,” he told me. “It makes everyone take a stance. Never in all my years showing art (of all different sociopolitical degrees) have I seen anything like the public reaction. I was worried about my employees and about our visitors.” Gallery director Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels went to the local precinct to meet with its Community Affairs officer who, after a two-hour conversation, put the gallery under special alert, with a patrol unit passing by several times a day. Shainman refused to take A Man Was Lynched by Police Yesterday down until his landlord, ROY-AL Company/Kalimian Organization, insisted on it, threatening legal action. (As it happens, that echoes history: the original banner stayed outside the NAACP headquarters for years, until the organization was threatened with losing its lease.) Scott’s banner was up for only a week but, he suggested over lunch, during that short time it “began to embody the fears of gallerygoers, the police, landlords, and even Fox News.”
Before hanging his banner outside the gallery, Scott, accompanied by several Shainman staff members, had activated it by taking it to Union Square during the protest there after the deaths of Castile and Sterling; it evoked the way the NAACP flew its flag during the ’20s and ’30s, following the lynchings of individual black men. Today, Scott said, black people “are killed by the police in greater numbers than they were at the height of lynching. The police actually kill more white people than black people, but the percentage of those murdered is disproportionately black [to the general population]. You’re approximately six times more likely to be killed by the police if you’re black than if you’re white. That is the terror that is perpetuated among people today, and that is the legacy of lynching. I want this flag to be a phantasm of the past: both as a means to mark this horror from the past that exists in the present, but also as the resistance from the past that persists in the present. The flag was flown because the NAACP organized people to stop lynching.”
Dread Scott, A Man Was Lynched by Police Yesterday, 2015. COURTESY THE ARTIST AND JACK SHAINMAN GALLERY
Dread Scott, A Man Was Lynched by Police Yesterday, 2015. 
That wasn’t the only way the NAACP fought lynching. Along with the John Reed Club and other like-minded organizations, it curated art exhibitions, and sold the art to raise money for anti-lynching efforts. José Clemente Orozco and Isamu Noguchi were among the artists who donated work to these shows. Noguchi’s sculpture Death (Lynched Figure), 1934, now at the Noguchi Museum in Queens, based on an International Labor Defense photograph of a torched, castrated, lynched black man, was a denunciation of the horror of lynching.
It was crucial for Scott that, aside from the slight change in language, his flag precisely replicate the original. I wanted to challenge him on this assertion. Scott discussed A Man Was Lynched by Police Yesterday as if it were all content and operation, and not deliberately jarring formally. At first he resisted me. Doing research at the Library of Congress, he could find only six photographs of the NAACP banner and said, “it might be slightly off, but it’s pretty damn close.” He rattled off dimensions. The original was 9 by 6½ feet; his is smaller—a little over 7 by 4½ feet—but its proportions are the same. There are other differences. The font the NAACP used, he said, “would have been a hand-cut one that the flag maker would have designed, based on what sign painters would have used. So it’s very much an Art Deco font. I’ve tried to match the individual rendering, but mine is not hand cut. I chose the closest font I could find and tweaked that in Illustrator to evoke a semblance of the original.”
I countered that his flag is not exactly a replica. There is a way in which he aestheticizes the content—the word “lynched” seems enlarged through the addition of “by police yesterday” under it. “People might not know the original flag,” Scott said, “but they know my work and that it refers to an original. In my practice I am concerned with this conceptual framework, where the past can sit in the present. History sets the stage for the present, and it resides in the present in a new form.”
Not able to let go of the art-historical import of the flag, I pushed on about flags in art from Raoul Dufy to Jasper Johns and then reminded him that, in A Man Was Lynched by Police Yesterday, there is no representation of a figure being lynched; all we have is the text. This seemed important because, as Shainman pointed out to me, people kept thinking that despite the lack of a figure they saw the flag as reading a black man was lynched by police yesterday. The text manages to suggest a figure. “Is the association with a black male because the flag itself is black?” I asked Scott, “or is there something else going on?”
Excitedly, he replied in rapid fire: “Yes, so part of reading the word ‘black’ is that people actually do associate lynching exclusively with black people, and while there were people of other ethnicities [who] were hung, lynching was something that basically happened only to black people. It wasn’t about ropes and trees; it was about systemic terror for the black population.”
Dread Scott photographed in Brooklyn on October 3, 2016. ©KATHERINE MCMAHON
Dread Scott photographed in Brooklyn on October 3, 2016. 
Scott Tyler was born and raised in Hyde Park, Chicago. Like his father, he went on to train as a photographer. To this day, that training helps him frame what he wants people to see. The controversy sparked by What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag? resulted in instant success for the young artist. Not deterred by police protesters and death threats, he appeared on national television in 1990 wearing a T-shirt featuring an image of Mao Tse-tung (he told me he remains a Communist).
In the ’90s, and particularly after the famously incitant 1993 Whitney Biennial, Scott was categorized as an “identity politics” artist. Recently, though, with glowing reconsideration of these artists and their work (think Robert Gober’s 2014–15 MoMA exhibition), his art has also become understood in a more nuanced context. “The identity politics movement in art in the ’90s was very important,” Scott said. “I like a lot of the work that came out of the ’80s and ’90s, and I’m friends with some of the people who became prominent. People were looking at various cultures and people who’d faced various forms of oppression, be it because of their gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, nationality. We have to stand with the oppressed, and that’s a really good thing. However,” he continued, “philosophically and methodologically, what undergirded multiculturalism was a sort of relativism. People assumed, ‘Well, I as a black man can understand my experience, and you, say, as a black woman could never understand it.’ ”
Cultural relativism was a popular position in the 1990s. In the catalogue for the 1993 biennial, for instance, David Ross, the Whitney Museum’s director at the time, wrote, “Artists insist: know thyself.” Scott agrees that owning one’s experience is valid, but went on, “Well, first of all, we’re both still black, and most experience and understanding in the world is secondary experience…even what is non-stigmatized. I know it sounds old-fashioned, because now I keep returning to certain ‘truths’ that as humans we have to stand by.”
Thomas included Scott in his and Gottesman’s show this past summer at Shainman because of his way of alighting on the authentic in his work. “It unapologetically challenges aspects of our government, our economy, and our society,” Thomas said. “We wanted Dread to be a part of this from our very first community engagement project because of his track record for keeping it real.”
Scott’s penchant for keeping it real means that he has not been afraid to confront the government head-on with these truths. In 2009 he installed 12 coffin-scaled light boxes, each showing a photograph of an African-American or Latino/Latina teenager, for a piece called …Or Does It Explode?. The boxes also had an audio component: a speaker in front of each box played the teenager talking about his or her life goals and aspirations. Created in collaboration with the teenagers and very much akin to both flag works, it is an artwork that can live in a gallery but is ultimately for the public at large. Scott took the title from Langston Hughes’s 1951 poem “Harlem,” reinvigorating the lines that are trotted out every February for Black History Month calendars. Displayed in Philadelphia’s Logan Square, near the city’s Family Court Building, it confronted the judicial system with the lives of these teenagers held in a balance that might not exist absent systemic racism. Scott told me that one judge, who had to approve the work before it was installed, asked if there were anything she could do to intervene in the lives of these teenagers, in the hope of preventing their ending up dead, like many of those who had appeared before her.
Why limit yourself to audio and photography in that artwork, I asked Scott. Why hadn’t he made the jump to video? “There is a way in which video doesn’t do enough,” he said. “Look at all the videos of unarmed black people being shot by the police, and they can be virtually meaningless as evidence. My earliest work that was explicitly trying to explore political ideas had actual text; it was just static written text. I quickly moved into oral text, in part because some of the people I wanted to reach—not the majority of the actual audience—don’t enjoy reading. With audio, more people will listen.
“Then,” he added, “there’s also the influence and inflection of voice and culture that don’t translate into writing. Yes, Zora Neale Hurston made some real breakthroughs in talking about vernacular language, but it’s still different when you hear the actual voice. With …Or Does It Explode?, it’s extremely important that the voices of the people [be] brought outside of their day-to-day lives and into an art context—into a gallery context, or even a museum context.”
Dread Scott, …Or Does It Explode?, 2009. COURTESY THE ARTIST
Dread Scott, …Or Does It Explode?, 2009. 
In the next year, Scott will have exhibitions at galleries and museums throughout the United States, from Chicago and New York, to Memphis, Winston Salem, and New Orleans. He doesn’t think about his work in terms of the art world; he thinks of it in terms of the possibility of contagion. His next major project, Slave Rebellion Reenactment, is a re-creation of the German Coast Uprising of 1811. It will feature 500 men and women armed with machetes, cane knives, sickles, muskets, blunderbusses, and clubs. “You know,” he said, “the items that people rebelled with.”
His concern for historical accuracy pops up even in the dress of the participants. “In the original rebellion, the generals, formerly slaves, seized French militia uniforms,” he said. “They wanted to look like an army to other slaves.” The participants, outfitted in period costume, will start out 40 miles up the Mississippi River from New Orleans and walk to within 15 miles of the city, to the location, 26 miles from the Andry Plantation (now LaPlace), where the rebellion took place. At the time, it was all sugar plantations. Now, Scott pointed out, it is populated by strip malls, box stores, trailer parks, gated communities, and oil refineries.
Earlier, we’d spoken about the fear of allowing black people to arm themselves, in connection with the 1960s and ’70s, the time of the Black Panthers. “It actually began in the Dred Scott Supreme Court case decision,” Scott said. “One of the arguments was, ‘Look, if they were citizens, we’d have to allow them to have guns.’ The founding fathers were not so foolish as to allow black people to be armed. It’s very explicit. We don’t want the people we denigrate and abuse to have access to weapons, because then what happens? Then they might come for us.”
Emboldened by his mention of Dred Scott, the famous 1857 case where a slave sued for and was denied his freedom, the most obvious question came to mind, “Why Dread Scott, why that name?” His eyes seemed to glaze over, surely from having had to answer this so many times over the years. “Scott Tyler was a figment of my mother’s imagination. It’s my government name. When I came of age, I was a punk-rock kid in the 1980s and ’90s; all my friends were in bands and had stage names. I knew Virus X, I hung out in passing with Joey Shithead. People had all sorts of colorful names, and I thought well, all right, just because I’m not in a band doesn’t mean I can’t have a different name. So my parents named me Scott and I had dreadlocks so I thought, I’ll be Dread Scott. With the name like the work, I wanted people to have to know that [to paraphrase from the Dred Scott decision,] there are no rights that a black person has that a white person is bound to respect. I chose to spell it differently than the historic figure, in order to bring up the concept of dread. If people see me or my work with dread, if they are threatened by it, well, those people who want to exploit society should be threatened by art.”
Andrianna Campbell is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Art History at the CUNY Graduate Center, specializing in American art and modern and contemporary art of the Americas. She currently holds the CASVA Chester Dale Fellowship at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Art Build Techniques for Protest

January 6, 2017
Bay-Area arts organizer David Solnit has been making art for protest movements for decades, and has established a practice of simple, reliable techniques for amplifying messages in the streets. I’ve condensed (and lightly edited and added to) a few of his resources in this blog post, and hopefully I’ll be following up with some more tips from David and other powerhouses of protest communication and props. These tips work really well with downloadable graphics from our graphics page here at Justseeds!
Our art and visuals can tell our story to those who see us or through media, make our actions more powerful, lift spirits and hold our space. It’s also a good way to involve folks, build momentum and have fun. Sometimes photos or even media coverage of an art build party can help get the world out. There are many ways to use images and slogans to get your message across.
COPY AND PRINT: download, and email to yourself or put on a flash drive and go to your printing place (like FedEx) or find out who you know who has a color printer or access to color printing. Make color copies (or black and white copies-depending on design) on 11×17 or 12×18 (if that is an option). It’s ideal if you can get cardstock or a heavy paper, or you can also mount them on cut-to-size posterboard/cardboard/etc using spray adhesive, glue stick, or tape around the edges.
ENLARGE AND ASSEMBLE: One way to make a larger sign is to enlarge  the design onto two sideways 11×17 sheets, cut and paste together on a rigid backing, to make one bigger 17×22 inch sign—or do it in 4 sections and make it even bigger.
ADD ELEMENTS: you can add a colored paper or painted border, use colored posterboard and leave a border, or add a not-too-dark color wash(watercolors or watered-down latex/acryic paints) to back and white designs.

One great way to use images and slogans is to get them onto CROSSBAR FLAGS. 

These painted, stenciled or screen-printed fabric flags are designed to have horizontal sticks at top and bottom, and also attach to a vertical pole. They are very visible, and easy to carry.
Here’s how to make one–or many:
Choose a lightweight  muslin, cotton, polyester or other lightweight non-stretchy white fabric. White sheets are also good, and damaged ones can sometimes be had for free from industrial laundry companies. Cut–or tear after an initial cut–to size. I usually make these flags about 24 x 40 inches, allowing 6 inches to wrap around the top/bottom sticks. You can adjust the flag size to make best use the of size of fabric you have. One reason I choose a light fabric is so the light will shine through if the sun is behind the flag.
I create a painting table with a sheet of not-too-rough plywood placed on top of a table or sawhorses, and then staple the flag fabric to the plywood in four corners, pulling it tightly so there are no wrinkles. You can also do this with masking or duct tape.
3) DESIGN/LAYOUT: Draw your design — first on paper, then on the flag fabric. TIPS: Less is more; keeping to a few shorter words and simple bold images makes it stronger and easier to read. A light/dark contrast makes it readable. One option is to paint a light color over the whole flag, priming it, let it dry, then draw your design and paint with much darker colors.
Remember, the more complex your image, the more time it will take. Using a straight edge, mark the top/bottom edges of your words. If you need help spacing, count the number of letters in each line and dividing in ½ and ¼  guide for where they go on the flag.
4) PAINT: I paint flags and banners with latex (water clean up) house paint. You can also use artists acrylic paints. Don’t use tempera paint–it smears easily and runs if it gets wet. I put the paint into a plastic container and thin with water a bit to make it flow–easier to paint with, but not so much it bleeds or looks thin. Let the flag dry, then pull it off the plywood. NOTE: you can also choose to screen print or spray-paint stencil the flags, maybe adding a handpainted element too.
I use wood lath, narrow wood strips (1 1/2 x ⅓ inch) like was once used to back plaster walls and is now used for fence trellises. You can buy it either for fence lattice and garden trellis or for plaster walls. A clear (no big knots) 2×4 can be ripped on a tablesaw. But, you can use whatever you can get. Cut the stick an inch shorter than the fabric, so it’s not visible or sharp. Us a staple gun to staple the edge of the fabric to the outside edge of the stick. Roll the stick over twice and securely staple the fabric to the stick. Use ¼ inch staples–or just shorter that the wood thickness, to avoid sharp edges. Do this at the top and bottom. Then get your vertical flag pole; I usually use 8 foot tall,  1×2 inch “furring strips” making sure they don’t have big knots that might break while carrying. I get 3/4 to 1 inch washerhead screws, or wood or sheet metal screws, and use a cordless drill with a phillips bit to screw the middle of the top and bottom of the flag sticks securely into the vertical flagpole. I either assemble them onsite to make transport easier or else bundle them up 4 -6 per bundle for transport and carrying to site.
6) CARRY! Are they in the best place and facing the right direction? Do you want them to move as a line or groups of flags, or with some choreography? They can be a powerful visual positioned right behind a hand-held banner people hold below their heads.

There’s some further tips on how to make these flags and also how to paint GIANT BANNERS and more in this great 12 minute videofeaturing David and a crew of artists and activists at work.

Here’s a variety of forms of visual art that have been produced with groups for actions and demonstrations:

HAND HELD SIGNS: signs with a picket stick that people hold in their hands—these can range from 11×17 copied/printed to hand made, screen printed or printed cardboard, yardstick, fabric. Making them beautiful, colorful, visually strong, simple and including color and images can really help the event come more alive.
PICKET SIGNS: Any kind of sign on a stick or pole—cardboard or yardstick are most common. They can be made in the shape of a relevant image.
BANNERS: Fabric horizontal banners with printed words and or images can be hand held below head level or held overhand on two (or more for longer banners).
GIANT BANNERS: Long banners from 16 to 100 feet long have repeat images or messages or a long message and/or image. It takes more folks to hold and can be tough if windy, but can also really visually have an impact.
GIANT HORIZONTAL BANNERS: Wide and often long banners held horizontally so they are visible from above and at the side can help colorfully hold and occupy streets or space, be energizing for those carrying (put an earth ball in and it becomes a game of moving the ball around and trying to save it from falling out). These can make for great photos from above, or from underneath.
PARACHUTE BANNERS: messages and or images painted on a “play parachute” which come 12 or 24 feet on white nylon. Strong space/street occupying visuals and great for games (and for kids). Can offer a bit of sun/rain protection for those underneath.
VERTICAL BANNERS: like the “Crossbar Style Flags”, but bigger and often haunted on bigger taller poles—bamboo or wood. They can be very visible above the heads of a march or rally, but can also challenging in strong winds.
FLAPPING FLAGS: painted or screen printed, often on light nylon fabric or other fabric that catches the wind easily. They can be mounted on wood, bamboo or even telescoping-extending painting roller poles.
BIKE BLOCK FLAGS: Bikes can be adorned with flags (they always flap visibly when riding) to add a mobile and dynamic visual element. Bike flags can be painted or screen printed on fabric.
PUPPETS: Puppets can represent figures in the story being told—either a type of person or community or specific person or someone from history. Puppets can be very simple with just a head and poncho costume on a pole or a three person puppet with one person holding the body and head on a pole or wearing it on a backpack frame, and two others holding each hand. It’s worth thinking about who the puppet will represent, if you have the time to make it with care, if it will have an slogan and/or message on it and also to have the people operating it rehearse with it and maybe get into costume or wear a common color. The person carrying the puppet is the puppeteer and can bring it to life and make it more powerful if they are eager to perform. Groups of puppets can interact. Puppets representing different sides of an issue can struggle with each other. Be careful, however, not to let the puppet become more important than the protest! If they become a burden or an obstacle, get rid of them. Read more about the history of radical puppetry here.
ACTUAL OBJECTS: Marchers carrying real sunflowers marching on an oil refinery. Teachers mobilizing to a school board meeting demanding a decent contract carrying actual shovels painted with the words “TEACHERS DIG DEEP,” “TEACHERS CULTIVATE.” Argentines, Icelanders and others have marched with everyday kitchen pots/pans and spoons as both noisemakers and household symbols of ordinary people. People commemorating a murdered activist carried roses to lay at an altar in front of the building of the institution that murdered the person. People carry actual household brooms and mops to tell Chevron Oil to ‘CLEAN UP” it’s mess. That actual object can often be more powerful than an artistic representation. The world of protest is your oyster!

SHIELDS: Sometimes you might need to defend yourself or your friends in a protest context. One protest used 3′ x 4′ scale models of book covers on thick, reinforced cardboard with handles on the back as both props to communicate good reading ideas and tools to defend against attack.
See you in the streets!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

"How to Safely Defend Yourself From Police Brutality": artist Shaun Leonardo

America is a nation divided in many regards, one splintered along lines of identity and circumstance. There is, of course, a long history of internal conflict in the United States, but the 21st century seems marked by intensified hostilities, resistance, violence, and threats of more to come. 
One element of our national turmoil is the fight over racial equity in this country, the fulcrum of which has been the issues of police brutality and violence against black and Latino people in this country. There have been protests and countless debates but, as a nation, we still seem deadlocked over fundamental questions of how to treat the most vulnerable among us. It’s a worthy debate, but not one in which Shaun Leonardo is interested. Instead, he’s working to keep people safe.
For over a year, Leonardo has been leading public-participatory performances that take the form of self-defense workshops. In the past, the multidisciplinary artist had conducted performances that required him to get physical—he’d trained and performed as a wrestler, boxer, bull fighter, mixed martial artist.—but his most recent work taps into the current zeitgeist. Last year, after national headlines had been filled with the names of black people killed at the hands of police, Leonardo decided to put on I Can’t Breathe, a performance and self-defense workshop in honor of Eric Garner and other killed by cops that teaches participants actual defense moves and techniques to outmaneuver attacks, including the choke hold that ended Garner’s life.
I Can't Breathe With Shaun Leonardo 2
Complex News
“It really started when Trayvon Martin was killed,” says Leonardo. “My wife and I were considering having a kid and I remember looking at Trayvon’s face and realizing that much of what I had buried in terms of fear was all resurging. And I realized that the child I brought into this world would experience much of the same fear I experienced growing up in Queens. How do I cope with that? What can I do?” In 2015, Leonardo put on his first I Can’t Breathe workshop.
In the workshop, participants are paired off in a staggered arrangement around a room and given while Leonardo demonstrates a series of attacks and corresponding defensive moves. Taking cues from him, participants alternate between the roles of target and aggressor. It ends with the recitation of a script adapted from a Nina Simone interview.

“What's free to me? Same thing it is to you. You tell me. Just a feeling,” Leonardo shouts while the group performs the moves they’ve learned. “I'll tell ya what freedom is to me: No fear!”
Recently, Leonardo performed his workshop at The Cooper Union School of Art’s Wound study center in New York City. Complex joined Leonardo a performance of I Can’t Breathe to better understand the intention behind the workshop and to see it in action.
Have you received any pushback to the idea of teaching techniques for people to do more than just comply if they’re physically attacked by police?
I’ve been fortunate enough to bring this particular piece to different kinds of communities, communities in which this piece is felt very differently—young brothers and sisters for which the idea of police violence is very much felt. So, as far as reaction goes, all I can tell you is that there's a level of seriousness in the room so there is no controversy, to be very honest.
I Can't Breathe With Shaun Leonardo 4
Complex News
You started this workshop before Donald Trump was elected president but, throughout his campaign, there seems to be a rise in fear among American—people are afraid to that they’ll be assaulted. Does I Can’tBreathe land differently now?
What I have discovered, even in the bubble we consider New York City and in my immediate circles, is that there is a denial of the fear that is now embedded even more so than it was yesterday or the day before, in certain bodies prior to the election...People want to argue other aspects of that choice—the choice to elect someone like Donald Trump. People want to debate, people want to deny through words, but what it comes down to is that for some of us, words have direct implication to how others treat and perceive our bodies.
I return to this idea of embodiment, and it's something that I’m really invested in my work. How close can I get people to that fear? How can I have it live through another’s body so that at least for a moment you can feel and understand through feeling that it's not something that can be talked away.?
I’m curious: what have you seen I Can’t Breathe do for participants who, just based on their identity, feel targeted? What does it offer them?
For those individuals, these are tools that they can take home with them. However, it comes with the same warning that these techniques can very well lead to more harm because they are considered resisting arrest or they are considered resistance. What they do with that information really is up to everyone in the room.
Aside from the practical skills, is there any greater message that you want participants and witnesses to take with them when they leave?
I've said one thing before that holds true more now than ever, in my work, I'm not necessarily interested in empathy. And I’m certainly not interested in a conversation about compassion right now. More words. You have to let people feel. You have to let people be in their anger. And you have to let people face fear right in its face. To be in it, to try to understand it. You can’t talk away someone else’s fear. And so for right now in this moment, in the day that I find myself conducting this workshop, I want to make it hurt.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Cruising the 70s: Unearthing Pre-HIV/AIDS Queer Sexual Cultures

Between the Sheets:
Radical print cultures before the queer bookshop
Thursday 23 - Friday 24 February 2017
Centre for Contemporary Art, Glasgow 
The 1970s was a crucial time for feminist and LGBTQ activism and community-building. Between the Sheets explores how and why reading and writing acquired such prominence and power in queer communities in Britain in this important decade, engaging with the pleasure and politics of print before the establishment of important queer bookshops like Lavender Menace and Gay’s the Word in the late 1970s and early 1980s. With contributions from artists, activists, writers, and academics, it will stop to consider tactile encounters with the printed word, reflect on collective interactions with print in reading groups and consciousness-raising sessions, and think about the development of spaces for sharing and selling books, magazines, and pamphlets in the 1970s, from women’s centres to nightclubs. 
Between the Sheets is framed around three conversations with a range of speakers who will share their experiences with print cultures in the 1970s, focusing on the politics of print, on spaces of distribution and connection, and on how these often ephemeral queer print cultures have been archived and are remembered in the present. These discussions will be punctuated by performances and screenings. Looking at reading and sharing the written word as a call to action, Between the Sheets asks what the role of print was for queer communities in the 1970s and what the significance of these radical queer print cultures is for LGBTQ activists today. 
The event is free to attend and ticketed. Tickets will be available soon. The event will take place across Thursday evening and Friday daytime. A full programme and information regarding accessibility will be published shortly.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact us via email at

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

These Black Kids Rapping About Urban Farming Is The Dopest Thing You’ll See All Week
In our Black communities across the United States, we are suffering from what some call “Food Deserts” or neighborhoods where even if people wanted to eat healthy, they can’t because there are no grocery stores or restaurants close to them that have healthy options. This leads to terrible health problems and makes people in these communities, many who have poor access to health care, feel like they are poisoning themselves.
Luckily, there is a current movement to combat this and nonprofits like Appetite For Change in North Minneapolis are being created to provide tools to create healthy communities through cooking workshops and organized efforts toward food justice. AFC teamed up with the Beats and Rhymes crew, the same rap group that created the Hot Cheetos and Takis song a couple of years ago that reached national fame with currently over 14 million YouTube views, and are now flipping the script and addressing those same junk foods that are hurting our communities.
The song entitled, “Grow Food” follows the kids through the North Side of Minneapolis where they drop some GRADE A bars about growing their own food and shining a light on food inequities in America.
“See in my hood there ain’t really much to eat. Popeyes on the corner, McDonald’s right across the street. All this talk about guns and the drugs, pretty serious, but look at what they feeding ya’ll that’s what’s really killin us.”
The song even gives a shout out to Michelle Obama giving her props for speaking out and using her platform to encourage everyone in America to eat better.
This song is a Banger. The North Side of Minneapolis just came through for the WIN on this one.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Energy Transfer Partners was not too happy this morning when some Texas water protectors built a pipeline in their office hallway.

Energy Transfer Partners was not too happy this morning when some Texas water protectors built a pipeline in their office hallway. They wanted it dismantled and taken away for some reason. Imagine that... 
The pipeline was for the ETP VP of Government Affairs, Grant Ruckel. It reads, "Grant, you can still choose to stand on the side that supports life or you can continue to reap the heavy consequences of supporting an industrial complex of death and destruction. Future generations, especially your childrens, may still one day look back and thank you for having the courage to join the side that supports life. You have a chioce."
ATXEJ Texas Water Protectors contend that the locally-based VP of Government Affairs for ETP, Grant Ruckel, holds considerable responsibility for disrespecting and violating human rights, Indigenous Rights, and governmental processes during the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, Trans Pecos Pipeline, and Comanche Trails Pipeline. Documented failures include: 
1. Failing to respect the sovereignty and treaty rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation:…/38399-terra-nullius-and-the-hist…
2. Disregarding the Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Justice and Department of Interior joint statement requesting a halt of construction for 20 miles east or west of the Lake Oahe / Missouri River crossing:…/joint-statement-department-justic…
3. Ignoring a second request from the Army Corps of Engineers for a 30-day halt in construction:…/dapl-ignores-2n…
4. Hiring security forces not licensed to operate in the State of North Dakota, that maced and let dogs bite protesters, including a pregnant woman:…/standing_rock_special_unlice…
5. Bulldozing through sacred and archaeologically significant sites, in both Texas and North Dakota, while they were under governmental review for special protection:…/…
6. Disregarding the requirements of the El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1, leading to the collapse of an irrigation canal during Comanche Trail Pipeline construction and significant economic hardship to area cotton farmers. Not to mention, suing the water district in eminent domain court to forcefully take the lands to drill unter their canals --- for a pipeline that is "one of more than 20 projects planned to export U.S. natural gas to Mexico... [which] will produce a supply excess of up to 56 times Mexico’s predicted capacity, making the only rational goal to pump it into global markets." citation:…/)…/comanche-trail-pipel…/92742924/…/irrigation-canal-col…/90809174/
Another less documented, but highly likely ethical failure is (ETP VP of Government Affairs) Grant Ruckel's direct encouragement of Morton County and the State of North Dakota's backing of shamefully violent and war-like behavior by so-called "officers of the peace".