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.
Join Hyperallergic for an online conversation with Kiowa Tribal Museum Director Tahnee Ahtone on January 25 at 7pm (EST).
This week, Patrisse Cullors speaks, reviewing John Richardson’s final Picasso book, the Met Museum snags a rare oil on copper by Nicolas Poussin, and much more.
Graduate students in the University of Denver’s Emergent Digital Practices program work on research with faculty who are engaged directly with their communities, both online and off.
Alexi Worth’s paintings demand a double take that allows viewers to look closer and begin dissembling the painting in order to understand what is being looked at.
Anastasia Pelias’s sculpture builds on this mythological legacy, suggesting we all have the ability to commune with a higher power and influence our futures.
Curated by Jill Kearney, this exhibition in Frenchtown, NJ amplifies stories both local and universal with work by Willie Cole, Sandra Ramos, sTo Len, and more.
Jack Spicer’s poetry can be deeply funny and playful but it has a consistent undercurrent of sadness.
Belinda Rathbone’s biography traces the sculptor’s embrace of kinetic mechanisms to his work in the Singer Sewing Machine factory.
The first lecture is on the relationship between early portrait photography and diverse notions of US identity during the Gilded Age. Register to attend on January 25.
It’s the first time in the country’s history that objects of this significance are offered for public sale.
Schwartz was at the forefront of computer-generated art before desktops or the kind of software that makes it commonplace today.
Curator La Tanya S. Autry shares a set of crucial questions she considers when curating images of anti-Black violence.