With highly publicized, politically charged occurrences of police violence against often-unarmed, usually non-white citizens across the country, people have responded in diverse ways, including activism and protests. Artists have also raised their voices in a wide variety of media.
In response, Mestizo Gallery, on the western cusp of downtown Salt Lake City, hosts Hands Up, Don't Shoot, a group show exploring themes of police brutality and violence against underrepresented groups. Gallery director and curator Jendar Marie Morales conceived of the idea last summer.
"With all the events that have happened in recent years regarding cases of police brutality against people of color, and since our mission is to create social change through dialogue and activism, I decided this was a show we needed to have at our gallery," she says.
The nonprofit gallery and community center's board originally sought art entries through the end of October 2016, but with all the activity around the presidential election, it was extended to January. All submissions were accepted, and the half-dozen artistic visions—though small in number—pack an aesthetic punch.
Andrew Fillmore's photographic essay—titled "I Am Michael Brown," after the young African-American shot in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014—consists of shots taken at marches, protests and rallies around the country in response to fatalities from police shootings. "These pictures are intended to be a direct representation of the anger, the hurt, the continual vulnerability of our POC friends and family, and the ravenous and unquenchable need for justice," he explains. These riveting images are a frank reminder of the emotional toll violence has taken on communities.
Ella Mendoza created the image "Justice 4 Abdi," dedicated to Abdullahi "Abdi" Mohamed, the teen shot by Salt Lake City police almost a year ago while wielding a broomstick. He was in a coma for several weeks, and recently released police video footage sparked outrage among local advocacy groups who have demanded that charges of aggravated robbery and drug distribution against him be dropped. The poster, depicting Mohamed wearing a Black Lives Matter hat, is copyright-free, and sales are being donated to support the youth and his family.
"I feel that, as Salt Lake City residents, it is our responsibility to respond to police brutality in our neighborhoods," Mendoza says. "It is important for us to continue to rise up for Abdi since his life has been forever altered by the actions of the police officer who shot him, and the choices made by the Salt Lake City Police Department."
Native American artist Denae Shanidiin contributed a work that looks at wider political issues. "God Bless Our Oil, Our Law Enforcement, and Our Uplifting Corporate Empire" is a triptych composed of three inkjet prints, each in a license-plate frame. The piece incorporates found objects, including vinyl Coca Cola ads proclaiming, "I'm proud to be an American," "All I do is win" and "This is how I do it" in the first image. The second one is a newspaper headline, "State seeks to fix failed oil well," with the subheadline "Crews climb atop Rushmore to ensure memorial's future." The artist notes that the land into which the Mount Rushmore monument was carved belongs to the Lakota Sioux, taken away by a controversial treaty, and believes those statesmen carved there "supported and profited off the land and deliberate genocide of Native people." A third image utilizes a poster reading, "We support our law enforcement. Thank you. All lives matter" in a license-plate frame reading, "United States of America. Blue Lives Matter."
Alexis Rausch's "Instructional Clothing for Police Brutality: Article One" is an installation piece—a hoodie similar to those worn by three high-profile police-brutality victims. But this one is fashioned from translucent organza, referencing traditional burial shrouds, and paired with shades of "panic room pink," a color that covers surfaces in panic rooms inside high-security prisons where particularly violent inmates are often isolated. She is concerned about the role of violence in society, and asks, "Are we, as consumers of violent media, memorializing victims or glorifying criminality?"
The discussion around these issues can sometimes become volatile and not always productive, but Morales believes, "Art can challenge people and their views. It can help them question things and think about difficult issues. Art can reach groups and places that other mediums might not be able to reach."
It's important that the discussion continues, she finalizes. "This is an issue that we need to continue fighting for. It is time to break the cycle of violence against minorities and underrepresented groups."