The Art of the Movement

January 27, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


The following essay was written by an activist with the Stop Mass Incarceration Network and the mother of a Black youth who has been criminalized and put behind bars by mass incarceration. She wrote this after going to the RESPOND art show at the Smack Mellon gallery and attending the Performance Workshop on January 24.


Art is a powerful tool. Throughout history, art has been an expression of human experiences and conditions. It appears that mankind discovered early on that they could communicate messages and express thoughts and feelings on cave walls when words had not yet been formed or would not do to fully convey these things. Somehow our ancestors must have instinctively known that through this form of communication, they were bridging a means of understanding one another, of sharing ideas and perhaps they even knew that it would be a method in which to memorialize their history. They must have felt that communication with each other was key to survival and passing these things down was just as essential to this survival. Artistic expression has always been an aid in which we have learned about ourselves, our past and our evolution as human beings. It is, therefore, fitting that this generation also would seek to use art as an important instrument to express their ideas, concerns and as outreach for solutions on the issues affecting them. Art serves as a powerful expression in its ability to reach and move so many people. Art has been and still is a tool in which images create a trajectory that can charge this movement which has galvanized a nation of people to call for reforms towards stopping the mass incarceration and police brutality and murder against young men of color and the poor in general.

Yesterday, in the Smack Mellon Gallery, a group of conscientious, dedicated and vigilant individuals braved the cold winter elements to come together to have a very spirited and inspiring workshop and discussion about the on-going current events of police brutality against the masses that appear to be spiraling out of control. Against the backdrop of a wall dedicated by various artists were depictions of people that have fallen victim to police killings and brutality— serving as influence and reminder of why these discussions and this movement must continue in spite of efforts to suppress it and our voices. The moving images and pictures of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Martin Luther King, Jr, and police armed against the citizenry spoke volumes and stirred powerful emotions in this serene, cool and tranquil space.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then these works of art are worth millions in their ability to capture the heart, the sensibility and consciousness of even those human beings who might want to turn a blind eye to the inhumane conditions we are now experiencing that our words may not be enough to convey. 

As I stood there with my seven-year-old granddaughter gently trying to explain to her what these images were about, I was so cognizant of our brutal history depicted on this wall. But I was also filled with a pride and determination to be part of this history with this roomful of people who will be the cause for change in this movement. I was reminded of the need our ancestors had expressed in art to communicate and pass down our much needed message to bridge an understanding essential to our survival.

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