After our last post introduced you to all of the presentations on the second day, this one will provide a more detailed account of our own panel. You probably remember our presenters Sophia Hörl and Stephanie Matthias, and Melina Haberl and Milica Cortanovacki from the introductory posts and videos we posted on this blog back in November. If you have not watched them yet, we strongly advise you to, in order to learn more about the presenters’ academic background and the motivation behind the topics they chose to talk about at the Dikes of Courage conference.
Our second panel, which was the tenth panel of the conference, consisted of two presentations: Sophia and Stephanie talked about art and activism in connection with the Black Lives Matter movement, and Melina and Milica spoke on police brutality and judicial injustice as discussed in the TV series Orange Is The New Black and its references to the BLM movement.
“Or Does It Explode?” – Art, Activism and the Black Lives Matter Movement
Stephanie Matthias and Sophia Hörl started their presentation off with an introduction to the theory of political art and the terms of effect/affect. Stephanie then went on to analyze some exemplary works by the photographers Shan Wallace and Devin Allen. Baltimore-based Wallace heavily uses different social-media platforms to spread and inform about her broad range of projects. Stephanie showed some photographs from her 2017 series “While We Were Waiting,” which shows African-American citizens of Baltimore, who are waiting for the bus and analyzed them in regard to their socio-economic background and the racially-based system of the American society. Shan Wallace’s work reveals the racism and inequality African Americans face every day. After that, Steffi introduced the photographs of Devin Allen, who creates images, which bare a striking resemblance to photographs from the time of the Civil Rights Movement.
In the second part of the presentation, Sophia Hörl looked at two other artists, who also address current issues for African Americans in their art. Sculptor and performance artist Dread Scott effectively connects past and present, for example in his artwork “A Man Was Lynched by Police Yesterday,” which Sophia introduced to the audience. Scott reused a flag from the times of the Civil Rights Movement, added the words “by police” and took it to current protests. The presenter also talked about the artist’s installation “Or Does It Explode?” and his performance “On The Impossibility of Freedom in a Country Founded on Slavery and Genocide.” The second artist Sophia introduced during her presentation was Theaster Gates. One example was his installation “Minority Majority,” which literally turns reality into art by utilizing fire hoses from protest marches, where they were used against protestors, and alining them in a way, which resembles the American flag.
By using these four examples of artists producing artworks critical of the current society, Sophia and Stephanie looked at the dynamics of art as protest and the aesthetic frames that can be used to voice criticism.
Is Orange The New Black (Lives Matter)? Police Brutality and Judicial Injustice on TV
Melina Haberl and Milica Cortanovacki each presented and analyzed one key scene from the Netflix drama series Orange Is The New Black. The first scene they discussed, from season four, episode twelve, shows the death of one of the main characters, Poussey Washington. The inmate chokes, as a result of a prison guard kneeling on her back without paying attention to her wellbeing. Washington’s last words before her death are “I can’t breathe,” repeated several times.
Milica looked at the scene and its connection to the Black Lives Matter movement; especially in regard to its display of police brutality. Even though the BLM movement is not specifically mentioned, Poussey Washington’s last moments exhibit parallels to the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island in 2014. Garner’s final words were the same; the quote has since been chanted during BLM protests, becoming a rallying cry. Milica also spoke on the display of explicit violence directed at black bodies in the tv show in general, and in this scene specifically, and discussed in how far it can be viewed positively or negatively.
The scene Melina looked at more closely was from season six, episode thirteen, and shows the trial and sentencing of Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson, who is wrongfully accused and convicted of shooting a policeman in the aftermath of a prison riot. Melina used her skills in film analysis to explain the scene and its stylistic devices further. As opposed to the scene Milica discussed, Melina’s explicitly references the Black Lives Matter movement. In the moment of the sentencing the camera pans to the audience in the courtroom, which is, unlike the jury, in big parts African American. A group of spectators is sporting BLM T-shirts. On these grounds, Melina discussed whether this tribute to the movement brings positive attention to it, or is merely feeding off of its popularity. In connection to this, the presenter also mentioned the problematic nature of the mainly white writers room of the Netflix series, and therefore added another perspective, from which to view the discussion of black topics on the show. In the ensuing Q&A, all of the presenters and the audience discussed whether art and TV shows like Orange Is The New Black are really an effective means of protest.