” Walk to Freedom came about in late 2017 after I discovered the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee was planning remembrance ceremonies in April 2018 to mark the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. I recognized the importance of this moment and I thought about how could I contribute to this great event.
I asked myself what could I do to honor the legacy of Dr. King’s ideas? What commitment of myself could I offer the Civil Rights movement today? How could I pay homage to our ancestors who sacrificed so much for our freedom?
That’s when the idea of Walk to Freedom was born. I realized if I was going to offer a symbolic gesture to Dr. King, move the Civil Rights movement ahead by one yard, give thanks to the original Freedom Seekers, then I was going to walk to demonstrate my commitment.” (credit)
Credit: Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts
Maraa Collective (2008-)
This walk took place in Bangalore, India in October of 2014, and used the format of a tourism walk to critically examine the processing of waste and the caste system. The walking route followed the same route as the street sweepers and waste sorters. In India, the Dalits caste has been traditionally responsible for clearing excrement.
This work may remind some of Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ work in which she shook the hand of every sanitation worker in New York City, shining a light on their labor and demonstrating respect for their work.
The battlefield on the day before the performance.
Participating former miners and their families on the day of the performance.
Police officers pursuing miners through the village.
“In 1998 I saw an advert for an open commission for Artangel. For years I had had this idea to re-enact this confrontation that I had witnessed as a young person on TV, of striking miners being chased up a hill and pursued through a village. It has since become an iconic image of the 1984 strike – having the quality of a war scene rather than a labour dispute. I received the commission, which I couldn’t believe, because I actually didn’t think it was possible to do this. After two years’ research, the re-enactment finally happened, with about eight-hundred historical re-enactors and two-hundred former miners who had been part of the original conflict. Basically, I was asking the re-enactors to participate in the staging of a battle that occurred within living memory, alongside veterans of the campaign. I’ve always described it as digging up a corpse and giving it a proper post-mortem, or as a thousand-person crime re-enactment.” (credit)
“Formed in New York City in 1987, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (more commonly known as ACT UP) brought widespread attention to the AIDS epidemic and helped make significant advances in AIDS research.
ACT UP’s first-ever demonstration in 1987 — as well as three others in 1988, 1989, and 1997 — took place on Wall Street, the world’s leading financial center, and targeted pharmaceutical companies that were profiteering from the epidemic.” (credit)
While not all ACT UP actions included walking and marching, their 10th anniversary demonstration did:
Newspaper advertisement for a 10th anniversary march organized by ACT UP. The ad appeared in the Village Voice, March 25, 1997 issue, and features a black and white photograph taken by Robert D. Farber in 1990 called “Fight AIDS.” The photograph features several men holding a banner that says “Fight AIDS!” on the roof of a building.
“Tenth Anniversary of the 1987 Demonstration
On March 24, 1997, the ten-year anniversary of ACT UP’s first demonstration, the group returned to Wall Street. The action, called “Crash the Market,” again protested the profiteering of pharmaceutical companies, but also cutbacks in Medicaid funding. ACT UP chapters from New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Philadelphia, and Oberlin, Ohio, brought over 500 activists, who gathered at 7:30 a.m. by the fountain in City Hall Park. They then marched south to Wall Street, chanting “We die — they make money” and “Wall Street trades on people with AIDS!” Demands for Congressional hearings on the price of AIDS drugs were also made. Protesters rushed the doors of the Stock Exchange or sat down in the streets. During the demonstration, 73 people (mostly women) were arrested for acts of civil disobedience.” (credit)
“On May 1, 1972, after the Labor Day demonstrations, artist Joseph Beuys was sweeping up the Karl-Marx-Platz in West Berlin together with two foreign students. This action took place at a time when Beuys had become politicized after the events of 1968 and had first founded the “Deutsche Studentenpartei (German Student Party)” in 1971, then the “Organisation für Direkte Demokratie durch Volksabstimmung (Organization for Direct Democracy Through Plebiscites).” In 1972, he was also expelled from the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. Since then, Beuys was performing political and ecological actions and interventions, in addition to the more elaborate art performances.
The cleaning squad from May 1, 1972 only requires a small gesture to make plain what Beuys meant by his extended concept of art. He refers to social differences and to a problem of leftist politics: Those who had to clean up after the Labour Day celebrations and demonstrations were the “guest workers.” Yet, the unions had never done much for the foreign workers who were paid low wages. On the other hand, throughout the 1970s the political Left kept mentioning international solidarity between the lower classes. In this respect, the group of three also achieved some considerable social clearing work. It is no coincidence that the two students and Beuys swept up not only on May 1, but also at Karl-Marx-Platz. While Beuys subscribed to Marx’s analysis of the economic relations, he had a different conception of alienation. Beuys shared the view that every form of capital is a form of slavery, but he saw actions as a way out. Moreover, to him every person was a subject and not an object of history. Hence, picking up the broom is a step towards Beuys’s ideal of self determination. via” (credit)
“From Ginza to Times Square, from Tiananmen to the Champs-Elysées, Han Bing and his cabbage have traveled the world. Through his photographic series, Han Bing asks viewers to stop and consider: What do we hurtle towards? And at what cost?
Walking the Cabbage in Tiananmen (2000) features an androgynous figure walking a cabbage in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Nothing unusual about that, his easy pose and arm akimbo seems to suggest. The artist behind the work – and in front of the camera – is Chinese artist Han Bing. Han specializes in photography and site-specific performance art in which some of his performances span nearly a decade and cross continental divisions. Walking the Cabbage in Tiananmen is part of one such series of performative photographs. Han produced the Walking the Cabbage seriesover a period of eight years, from 2000 to 2008.
Walking the Cabbage in Tiananmen is one of the earliest photographs from the series; the journey continues with Han Bing walking the cabbage in the Houhai district of Beijing, Han Bing walking the cabbage in a subway carriage of Beijing (2004), Han Bing cradling his cabbage in Jiangsu Province (2005), Han Bing walking the cabbage in Miami Beach, USA and Chinatown (2007). Han Bing walks and walks, posing with his cabbage as if oblivious to the gawking crowds and ever-present camera.
According to the artist, his intention in making art is for “people to see how much of our daily lives are routines that we’ve blindly absorbed.” And in this work, Han does just that through his subtle manipulation of hackneyed imagery which raises important questions about contemporary Chinese social norms.
Walking the Cabbage in Tiananmen is a particularly ambitious undertaking. In it, Han takes on one of the most iconic of symbols of China – the Forbidden City. To the everyday Chinese, the Forbidden City is a symbol of imperial power; this frontal view from Tiananmen Square is also a place of great historical significance in modern China. Here on the first of October 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China, reportedly declaring that “The Chinese People have Stood Up.”
Today, the site’s political and historical significance is overshadowed by its new identity as the necessary photo-op for seemingly every tourist who passes through Beijing. In this sense, Han Bing’s photo is so obvious as to be banal.
But all is not as it seems, for the composition demands viewers to ask questions. What is the artist doing with a cabbage in the midst of Tiananmen Square? And here lies the creative brilliance of the composition. Han ignores a half-century of art history discourse as he seemingly fails to realize that his is an age where iconography has become decidedly passé; this series of works employ ordinary symbols to create meaning.
The Cabbage is a particular favorite in Han’s oeuvre. According to Han’s website, the Chinese Cabbage is “…a quintessentially Chinese symbol of sustenance and comfort for poor Chinese turned upside down. If a full stock of cabbage for the winter was once a symbol of material well-being in China, nowadays the nouveau riche have cast aside modest (monotonous) cabbage in favor of ostentatious gluttony in fancy restaurants where waste signifies status…Yet, for the poor and struggling, the realities of cabbage as a subsistence bottom line have not changed—what’s changed is the value structure that dictates what—and who—is valuable or worthless in Chinese society.”
Omit the cabbage and the picture becomes almost ordinary as the requisite tourist picture in front of Tiananmen.
Knowing the iconographic significance of this site, Han Bing plays with the imagery through his composition. From the low-angle view of the camera, Han Bing dominates the composition; he literally stands head and shoulder above Tiananmen’s great wall.
This striking view point lends a monumentality to Han and his cabbage that the camera emphasizes by focusing on the foreground and blurring the background. This viewpoint brings to mind the imagery of old Communist posters depicting the exuberant triumph of the proletariat. And if one so chooses, one could read into the picture a political statement.
With his casual stance, Han lulls the viewer into forgetting the meticulous framing of the image; he sneakily causes us to forget what is missing from this iconic view — the framed portrait of Chairman Mao. But the image could just be another tourist photo, where the tourist in his eagerness to show friends that he’s made it to Tiananmen, inadvertently blocks out the nation’s most famous face. Make of that what you will, the image suggests.
Perhaps politics is indeed a distraction. Although Chinese art in the West is often viewed politically, with Ai Weiwei being the poster child of political criticism, Han’s works seek instead to confront the problems faced by ordinary Chinese people in the march towards modernization and urbanization. In this image, Tiananmen Square becomes a mere backdrop for Han and his cabbage, a suitable starting point for his photographic series and his critique of contemporary Chinese values.
Placing the focal point on Han and his cabbage on a leash, Han seeks to address ‘the way our everyday practices serve to constitute ‘normalcy’ and our identities are often constituted by the act of claiming objects as our possessions’. The modest cabbage on a leash “offers a visual interrogation of contemporary social values.” Once a symbol of well-being and a full stomach, it has now been discarded for bigger, better, more expensive, more impressive and more frivolous thrills. And those will, in turn, be cast off for something better.” [credit]
“The series of five hand-worked photographs that comprise The Mythic Being: I am the Locus conveys Piper performing a consciousness of otherness on a walk through Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An American-born artist of mixed racial background, Piper has articulated questions about the politics of racial identity in many ways throughout her work as an artist and philosopher. In 1973, Piper created an alter ego, the Mythic Being, who became the basis of a pioneering series of performances and photo-based works. For this 1975 Mythic Being performance, she sported large sunglasses, an Afro wig and mustache—chosen to blend in with the mid-seventies urban environment, and dressed in men’s clothing. This simple costume enabled her to appear inconspicuously as a black man to an unknowing public. In these photographs we can perceive the indifference of the crowd in Harvard Square to Piper’s performance: people brush shoulders with her, or look in the opposite direction.
Her subsequent intervention into the photographs with oil crayon and text helps to dramatize the scenes, and to express the tension between the artist’s inner experience and the invisibility of her Mythic Being performance to its live audience. Drawing directly on the photographic prints prevents the images from being seen as straightforward documentation of a performative event. Instead, by the final sequential image, most of the other people and surroundings have been obliterated by drawing, which parallels the text’s shift from philosophical meditation (“I am the locus…”) to existential shove (“Get out of my way…”). Piper intended for these photographs to be made into posters; she did not initially intend for these preparatory images to be treated as works of art unto themselves.” [credit]
“In 1973 Adrian Piper pasted a mustache on her face, put on an Afro wig, and donned round, wire-rimmed shades.
Dressed and acting like a man, she went out into the streets.
Muttering passages she had memorized from her journal, the artist was startling and weird, challenging passersby to classify her through the lens of their own preconceptions about race, gender, and class.
Who was this light-skinned black man, going on and on about how his mother bought too many cookies. Was he crazy? Was he dangerous? Why was he being followed by a film crew?
These street actions formed the basis of The Mythic Being, an influential work of performance art that helped establish Piper’s reputation as provocateur and philosopher.
At a time when Conceptual and Minimal art were mostly male domains that pushed to reduce art to idea and essence, Piper pushed back with confrontational work that brought social and political issues to center stage. And at a time when most performances were barely documented, Piper announced her project in ads in the Village Voice, arranged for it to be filmed by Australian artist Peter Kennedy, and created works on paper dominated by her aggressive alter-ego.
Footage from Mythic Being, borrowed from Kennedy, had been playing on a monitor in the Grey’s galleries until this week—when Piper requested the work be removed. The monitor was turned off and the gallery posted a note to viewers on top.
It explained that the artist had articulated her reasons in correspondence with Valerie Cassel Oliver, the show’s curator, which reads in part:
“I appreciate your intentions. Perhaps a more effective way to ‘celebrate [me], [my] work and [my] contributions to not only the art world at large, but also a generation of black artists working in performance,’ might be to curate multi-ethnic exhibitions that give American audiences the rare opportunity to measure directly the groundbreaking achievements of African American artists against those of their peers in ‘the art world at large.’”
The note responds with a statement of Cassel Oliver’s from the catalogue, arguing that the show’s mission is to resist “reductive conclusions about blackness: what it is or what it ain’t. What is clear is that it exists and has shaped and been shaped by experiences. The artists in this exhibition have defied the ‘shadow’ of marginalization and have challenged both the establishment and at times their own communities.”
In response to Piper’s request, Cassel Oliver added: “It is clear however, that some experiences are hard to transcend and that stigmas about blackness remain not only in the public’s consciousness, but also in the consciousness of artists themselves. It is my sincere hope that exhibitions such as Radical Presence can one day prove a conceptual game-changer.”
In depriving students and the larger public from seeing her work at the Grey, the artist, who currently lives in Berlin and runs a foundation dedicated to art, philosophy, and yoga, has chosen to make a larger point about marginalization and otherness, themes that have dominated her work throughout her career.
The question is whether separate exhibitions are still needed to tell the stories that were left out and continue to be absent from conventional tellings of art history, or whether creating these separate spaces amounts to a kind of ghettoization that prevents the artwork from being considered on the larger stage.
These issues are hardly confined to race, of course—curators of exhibitions on gender, nationality, and other aspects of identity routinely encounter artists who decline to participate because they don’t want to be considered in the context of “women artists,” “Jewish artists,” and so on. So, sometimes, do our contributors and photo editor when we run stories on these issues.
The organizers of “Jew York,” a show at Zach Feuer and Untitled galleries in New York last summer, were turned down by several artists who didn’t want to appear under such a rubric. Luis Camnitzer, a German-born Uruguayan artist, was so conflicted that he couldn’t decide whether to recuse himself or contribute a piece. So he sent a letter describing his conundrum, which became part of the show. It read in part: “Do I refuse the invitation on the grounds of feeling that it is an artificial and anecdotal grouping irrelevant to the work of most artists invited and therefore tinged by an aroma of weird fundamentalism? Or do I have to accept on the grounds of my need not to deny my Jewish connections bound by my ethical debt and beliefs? Maybe not totally pleasing to everybody, this letter tries to be my compromise.”
When “Radical Presence” opened at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, last year, it also included five works from Piper’s 1975 series I am the Locus, collaged and painted Polaroids on which images of Piper as the Mythic Being are inserted into scenes of a crowded street. The text gets bigger as the figure approaches the viewer, culminating in the warning “Get Out of My Way, Asshole.” The works, owned by the Smart Museum at the University of Chicago, were deemed too fragile to travel to New York.
Part II of the New York version of “Radical Presence” opens at the Studio Museum in Harlem on November 14. It doesn’t include any works by Piper. The show is scheduled to travel to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis next year.” [credit]
“The Hamilton Perambulatory Unit is a group of artists, writers and educators, co-founded in 2014 by Donna Akrey, Taien Ng-Chan and Sarah E. Truman. The HPU orchestrates participatory events to engage with historical and current ideas around perambulation, and to explore walking in conjunction with artistic practices and research-creation. Our methodologies have included stratigraphic cartography, locative media experimentation, sensory synesthesia poetry-writing, and found material sculpture-making. HPU has given walks in Montreal, Toronto, Windsor, Buffalo NY, Sydney Australia, London England, Galway Ireland, Memphis TN, Tokyo Japan, the online sphere of Zoom, and our home base of Hamilton Ontario.“
“Beginning in 2007, started photographing along the U.S.-Mexico border between El Paso/Juarez and San Diego/Tijuana. My project is organized around an effort to document all of the monuments that mark the international boundary west of the Rio Grande. The rigorous undertaking to reach all of the 276 obelisks, most of which were installed between the years 1891 and 1895, has inevitably led to encounters with migrants, smugglers, the Border Patrol, minutemen and residents of the borderlands.
During the period of my work the United States Border Patrol has doubled in size and the federal government has constructed over 600 miles of pedestrian fencing and vehicle barrier. With apparatus that range from simple tire drags (that erase foot prints allowing fresh evidence of crossing to be more readily identified) to seismic sensors (that detect the passage of people on foot or in a vehicle) the border is under constant surveillance. To date the Border Patrol has attained “operational control” in many areas, however people and drugs continue to cross. Much of that traffic occurs in the most remote, rugged areas of the southwest deserts.
My travels along the border have been done both alone and in the company of agents. In total, the resulting pictures are intended to offer a view into locations and situations that we generally do not access and portray a highly complex physical, social and political topography during a period of dramatic change.” [credit]