New York exhibit taps into dialogue on race and policing

Fri May 15, 2015 7:24pm EDT
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By Alice Popovici

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A multimedia installation opening in New York on Friday aims to encourage a conversation about law enforcement’s treatment of minorities by simulating a disorienting confrontation with police. 

“Hands Up,” created by artists Atif Ateeq and Roopa Vasudevan at Flux Factory in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, brings visitors, one at a time, into a dark space filled with flashing lights and police sirens.

Viewers are ordered to raise both hands, activating a blinding flash and a simultaneous photo. Pictures taken of each viewer become part of the installation.

“It’s about power,” Ateeq said, “the imbalance of power in society.”

Vasudevan said she and Ateeq began talking about the project last autumn after the deaths of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York fueled nationwide debate on how police relate to African-American men.

She said online videos of encounters with police, which have became a driving force behind raising awareness of fraught relations between police and minorities, inspired the project’s heavy use of photo and video technology.

“The whole purpose of this was not to necessarily take a stand one way or the other … but to generate empathy,” Vasudevan said. “A lot of the divisiveness and a lot of the issues just come from a lack of understanding on either side.”

Delores Jones-Brown, director of the Center on Race, Crime and Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said art could be an effective medium for broaching controversial topics.   Continued...

Artist Atif Ateeq prepares the multi-media installation titled "Hands Up" that addresses law enforcement's relationship with minorities at Flux Factory in the Long Island City neighborhood in Queens, New York May 13, 2015. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith