May 14, 2015 / 11:06 PM / in 2 years

New York exhibit taps into dialogue on race and policing

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

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.

Artist Roopa Vasudevan 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

“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.

“Art is less threatening and people are willing to be exposed to things via art that they are not willing to be exposed to via other means,” she told Reuters.

Although the project deals mainly with law enforcement’s relationship with black men, both artists said race relations was a theme that resonated personally. Ateeq’s family is from Pakistan and Vasudevan’s family from India.

“I think it speaks to a larger story of how we interact with each other,” Vasudevan said.

The exhibit runs from Friday to next Tuesday.

Editing by Jill Serjeant and Peter Cooney

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