In 2013, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin issued a ruling which effectively dismantled the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) racist stop-and-frisk policy. Scheindlin’s decision, in the class action lawsuit Floyd, et. al. v. City of New York, was a clear victory in a decades-long fight for the reform of a policy that disproportionately affects Black and Latino communities. The numbers show this, and the numbers don’t lie.
According to an analysis conducted by the New York Civil Liberties Union, 2,592,646 individuals were detained by the police under stop-and-frisk between 2009 and 2013. On average, 88% of those stopped were innocent. In 2009, 510,742, or 55%, of those stopped were Black, while 180,055, or 32%, were Latino. Two years later, those numbers stayed relatively steady: 350,743, or 53%, were Black; 223,740, or 34%, were Latino. Two years after that, they still hadn’t changed much: 169,252, or 56%, of those stopped were Black, while 104,958, or 29%, were Latino.
After each stop, the officer is required to fill out a form recording the details of the incident, assigning it — and the person involved — yet another number. Through such interactions with the police, millions of individuals have been reduced to numbers on a spreadsheet, nothing more than data points. This data was the subject of a recent performance and new sound installation, “Numbers Station [Furtive Movements],” by Mendi + Keith Obadike at Ryan Lee Gallery.
On September 10, just before the show’s public opening, a small crowd gathered in the back of the gallery to witness what had been announced as a performance employing “the radical misuse” of this data. With little fanfare, the Obadikes took their seats at a small table, placed on their headphones, switched on a radio transmitter, and began to read aloud the logs of stop-and-frisk reports from over 123 NYPD precincts. The performance was simply the sustained recital of the numerical tags of the many self-reported incident forms. Each number was read individually, the Obadikes alternating between themselves. After a log was read in its entirety, the artists would take a short breath, flip the page, and begin anew. For 30 minutes, the cryptic nature of all those abstract numbers — the assigned marks of supposed criminality — became public in a new way.
No names were read. There was no way to link each set of data points to any one person. However, knowing that an overwhelming majority of that data represents actual black and brown people was a frightful reminder that the truths about inequity cannot be hidden, even when they’re masked by bureaucratic numbers. The Obadikes’ staccato, monotone reading voices made it clear that the subject of the performance was indeed the data, not the artists themselves. For the duration of the exhibition at Ryan Lee, audiences will have the opportunity to listen to a recording of the performance.
The practice of using statistics to represent Black bodies (and more emphatically, Black trauma) is nothing new. From slave manifests to lynching reports, the codification of Black lives has long been employed by institutions as a means of regulation and suppression. “Number Station [Furtive Movements]” explicitly names the NYPD as another abettor of such fear-inducing mechanisms. The numbers don’t lie.
Mendi + Keith Obadike: Numbers Station [Furtive Movements] is on view at Ryan Lee Gallery (515 W 26th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through October 10.
The Tweet comparing an ominous screen capture from the Tucker Carlson Show to one of Holzer’s Truisms is being sold as an NFT to benefit crucial organizations in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.
Rapper Maykel “Osorbo” Pérez was sentenced to nine years.
Shows at the Hudson Valley’s Hessel Museum of Art feature artists Dara Birnbaum and Martine Syms, as well as new scholarship on Black melancholia as an artistic and critical practice.
On the day of the Supreme Court’s decision to undo 50 years of constitutional rights to abortion, artist Elana Mann’s “protest rattles” feel especially poignant and urgent.
This week, Title IX celebrates 50 years, the trouble with pronouns, a writer’s hilarious response to plagiarism allegations, and much more.
PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs reveals the “career in photography” that occupied the artist in the last three years of his life.
Since antiquity, women’s eyebrows have been sites of intense scrutiny, constantly shifting between trend cycles.
A landmark show of 30 artists at Jeffrey Deitch gallery in New York keeps the category of Asian figuration open-ended.
Contemporary Black-Indigenous women artists Rodslen Brown, Joelle Joyner, Moira Pernambuco, Paige Pettibon, Monica Rickert-Bolter, and Storme Webber are featured in this digital exhibition.
Hall makes no attempt to entice the viewer to begin looking and to look again, letting her methodical craft compel viewers to reflect upon their experience.
In Benglis’s latest works, the forces of gravity that defined her seminal poured latex and polyurethane pieces are traded for luminous bronzes.
A new project by Columbia’s Queer Students of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation explores queer histories that have been suppressed by gentrification and urban development.