Whitney V. Hunter staged a performance as protest at Union Square on Saturday, August 24. He laid down on the cobbled square and traced his silhouette 101 times in chalk. The other half of the performance, undertaken by Preach R Sun, took place later in the day at Michael Brown’s memorial in Ferguson, Missouri.
Hunter explained to Hyperallergic “it’s a continuation of all the bodies I hope will not get killed anymore and left on the street.” The body of Michael Brown, who was killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, was left on the street for four hours before local authorities took custody of the body. This unusually long delay created a public spectacle chillingly reminiscent of a lynching.
Michael Brown’s death is sadly not an isolated occurrence. Countless other men’s stories have gone untold. By tracing his body over and over again on the bustling public space, Whitney Hunter sought to publicize these nameless fallen black men.
After tracing his outline in chalk, he would give each silhouette a number before it was quickly trampled on by visitors to the farmers market seeking artisanal cheese, local organic produce, and other craft food items. That trampling became symbolic of the apathy that much of the middle class show towards the plight of African-American men.
Hunter described “this false zone of safety … as long as it doesn’t impact our immediate space, then it doesn’t matter.” Watching footage of the performance on YouTube, it’s chilling how much of the crowd barely engages, rolls their eyes, and psychologically pushes back to stay in this zone of safety. So typical of the joke we call today’s left in the United States, it appears the intelligentsia would rather express their progressive values by buying something, instead of pausing to engage in depth with the work of a performance artist about racism’s manifestations.
The performance was difficult for me to find. I had trouble locating it when I arrived at Union Square and began searching everywhere throughout the square for him. There wasn’t a large crowd surrounding the artist and the market’s bustling activity was surprisingly effective at camouflaging him when I was there. This tepid response stood in sharp contrast to the large circle that formed around two black hip hop dancers in another part of Union Square. The crowd wanted to be amused instead of challenged. In the interest of full disclosure, since I missed out on the performance, I had to rely on videos, photos, and emails with the artist to reconstruct its meaning.
At one point, Whitney Hunter wrote “my body counts” in chalk on the pavement. When several distracted shoppers came close to stepping on him during the course of his performance, his value was literally put into question. In an ironic twist, a pink sneaker almost nearly stepped on his hand while he held pink chalk. So when he says that “the black male body is not valued, it’s dispensable,” it’s coming from a real place. This dispensability is not just a reference to lynching’s dark legacy, and recent death reports in the media, it was the audience’s response. The crowd in Manhattan’s Union Square
interacted with disregarded a black man in public space.
“Body Count: Counting the Dead, #101,” a collaboration between Whitney Hunter in New York at Union Square and Preach R Sun in Ferguson, Missouri, at Michael Brown’s memorial, took place on the afternoon of Saturday, August 24.
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