Local 412 Presents 'Hands Up'
curated by Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi with Christiane D, Amber Epps, and co-presented by Pittsburgh Artists for Social Change
In the wake of Michael Brown’s death at the hands of Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson, the disgruntled of this nation turned to the gesture as well as the cry of Brown’s purported last words: “don’t shoot”. Whether Brown uttered those words or not should not be the focus. Myth or lie, the events surrounding the killing of Brown and multitude of other black bodies subjected to an untimely death due to police force is no folklore—it is fact. Hence, the fictive turn of phrase, “hands up, don’t shoot”, became the salvo of resistance and protest against the methodical murdering of black men and women, time and again, by law enforcement.
Reflecting on this polemic narrative of truth, Hands Up turns to this frisson of fact and folklore to one, explore the angst attached to the continued brutality black bodies endure and, two, reimagine a less virulent mantra that isn’t stoked in resistance and violence. Borrowing from the writings of Kevin Quashie and his notion of quiet as a show of sovereignty over black interiority, the works considered in this group exhibit reintroduce a complementary new vernacular behind the concept of surrendering through gestured possibilities. Along these lines, Hands Up places one hand in violent reality (“hands up, don’t shoot”) and the other in vagaries of the imaginary (“hands up”) to consider the multiple intents behind black subjectivity communicated through hands held high.
The works considered in the group show will document the realities and the reveries of black subjectivity, musing upon both spheres with a third eye that also imagines what is happening in the unsure, interior of black bodies when we engage the figurative gesture of hands up. When “hands up” is paired with “don’t shoot”, the act of gesturing with hands held high tends to signify a criminal culpability, a dynamic steeped in resistance against perceived guilt and injustice, and a political discourse embroiled in oppression. However, what happens in those quiet, still moments of surrender when hands are up and the vagaries of the black interior are wild with possibilities? What are the possibilities dancing in the mind when we surrender in gesture? What other thoughts are expressed with hands up? Delineating what is said (“don’t shoot”), unsaid (“hands up”), and said in those unsaid moments allows a shift away from a signifying interchange that is heavily demonstrative and public—a shift that considers alternative expressions of black humanity that aren’t entirely entangled in resistance. It is a shift that revisits the sentiments of noted hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar following Brown’s death.
“...when we don’t have respect for ourselves, how do we expect them to respect us? It starts from within. Don’t start with just a rally, don’t start from looting—it starts from within”.
Lamar posits that the demonstrative qualities of blackness may not be befitting for this moment. He calls for blackness to be navigated within before we gesture in resistance to the outside world. In keeping with this, Hands Up intends to disabuse the resistance associated with “hands up, don’t shoot” by introducing the vagaries of black humanity expressed in gesture alongside the violence inflicted on black bodies at the hands of the police. Pitting the two will visually stoke the comments of Lamar, encouraging an interior monologue that may afford subsequent insight on the tragedy at play on and off the stage.
Artists included thus far: Dread Scott, Alisha Wormsley, Devan Shimoyama, Vanessa German, Daniel Campos Zamora, Duron Jackson, Darrell Kinsel, Shikeith and Paradise Gray.