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This Week in Art Crime

Arise, Lenin!

In a video of the performance posted on YouTube, the two young men are shown carrying 5-litre bottles of holy water marked with a cross from a church across the square.

They move aside barriers in front of the mausoleum and throw the water at the doors and steps, shouting “Rise up and leave!” several times before being detained.

On Monday, Orthodox Christians celebrated Epiphany, a holiday marking the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan river that people commemorate by immersing themselves in icy rivers and lakes.

A spokeswoman for the Blue Rider group, Irina Dumitskaya, quoted by OVD Info, said that the aim of the performance was “to demolish the myth that Lenin lives forever by attempting to resurrect him on the Epiphany holiday just as Lazarus was raised from the dead.”


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“I think, like all my work, it has a satirical angle to it. It’s just a commentary on what’s happening in the neighborhood,” Specter said. “You can call it gentrification, you can call it anything you want. This consistent change is happening everywhere.” Specter confirmed that he installed the piece yesterday, but denied any deliberate connection to Martin Luther King Day.

The piece is more than just waggish wordplay—Brownstoner reported that the Myrtle Ave spot where you could once score some gnarly Fish Nibblers™ will become shiny new luxury apartment buildings in the very near future.

The process of putting up the piece, for Specter, was itself a study in Clinton Hill gentrification. “No one was ever concerned about what I was putting up. They kept coming up to me wondering what’s going on, instead of bothering to look at [the White Hassle sign],” he said. Passersby seemed thrilled with the idea of something new being built in the now derelict space. “A guy pulled up in a Porsche Cayenne and stood there, staring at me.”


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Prison Map is about visualizing carceral space,” says Begley. “We have terms like the ‘prison industrial complex’ but what does that actually look like? If you were to stitch together all these spaces of exception, how might they appear from above?”

To create Prison Map, Begley coded a script that plugged the known coordinates of prisons and jails nationwide into the Google Maps API. When he ran the script, it snapped a photo of every county jail, state prison, federal penitentiary, immigration detention facility and private prison—more than 5,300 in all.


Since 1980, the US prison population has exploded from fewer than 500,000 to more than 2.2 million. That’s prompted a prison building boom, mostly in rural America. As a consequence, many of these facilities are located in small towns, deserts, and remote corners of states with lots of space. They’re out of sight, and out of mind.  Prison Map reveals this vast hidden infrastructure.

The rapid expansion of the country’s prison system has brought with it the rise of the supermax prison—austere facilities designed specifically to keep prisoners in solitary confinement for indefinite periods. The first modern supermax, Pelican Bay State Prison at the northernmost end of California, was built in 1989. It provided the model for 60 others across the nation. In recent years, public debate about American prisons has focused particularly on the psychological trauma caused by prolonged isolation.



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Urakawa is suspected of breaking the road traffic law by altering several road signs in Chayamachi, in Osaka’s Kita Ward, at around 1 a.m. on Jan. 3.

Apparent surveillance footage obtained and broadcast by Japanese media appears to show two individuals climbing a post to reach the sign. Police are thought to have identified Urakawa from the video.

Abraham earlier told his Facebook followers he was in Japan over the New Year’s holidays. Osaka police have not confirmed the second suspect’s identity but say the investigation is ongoing.

“If police ask me whether I did it, I would say ‘Yes,’ ” the Fuji News Network television channel quoted the culprit as saying, although it stopped short of naming the individual as Abraham. He told the network that he had tampered with 90 signs in Japan on the grounds that they are symbols of authority that he seeks to challenge through art.

FNN showed examples of the sticker graffiti, including images of a sign that had been altered to look like an arrow piercing a heart, and one that showed a bar being eaten by Pacman, the video game character.



Astral Projections


Two filmmakers do battle with the hegemony of the Western nation-state in the weightlessness of space.

Larissa Sansour and Frances Bodomo’s wildly creative work takes control of the geopolitical valences of spaceflight and blasts off with them, sending their avatars into the celestial space normally controlled by the giants of earthly might. Sansour’s 2009 A Space Exodus stages a lunar landing under the auspices of the Palestinian Space Program, planting a flag in the night sky and highlighting the stakes of a return to Jerusalem as more than a moonshot. In Bodomo’s 2014 Afronauts, the real-life Zambian space mission rushes to completion contemporary with the US Apollo 11 launch. Even though their work has been shown together at times, somehow their parallel trajectories missed each other in transit. We put them into email conversation with each other to see what perspectives they had both gained from looking at the stars at such an angle.

Frances: I would love to hear you speak about how space relates to landlessness, homelessness. Was this a part of your process? I was especially struck by, “Jerusalem, we have a problem,” as a wondrous reclamation of land, later to be lost as she tumbles deeper into space. Very poignant.

Larissa: There is a saying going around in Palestine for many years now that goes: “It is easier to reach the moon than to reach Jerusalem.” This is unfortunately the state of affairs in occupied Palestine now. I was born in Jerusalem, but I am not allowed by the state of Israel to enter it. For most Palestinians, traveling from one Palestinian city to another is becoming if not extremely hard, sometimes impossible. A Space Exodus references Armstrong’s famous words and contextualises them in the Palestinian struggle for statehood. In the film you see me try to get in touch with Jerusalem from my spaceship but I never hear anything back. I get lost forever in space. There is a direct comment on Palestinians being forever stuck in limbo, in a space of statelessness.

Are you, Frances, interested in changing the meaning of certain symbols and elements by placing them in a context that they are not usually associated with?

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What remains from dismantled relationships shows just how much power those structures retain.

A recent retrospective of Charles Gaines’ work at the Studio Museum in Harlem showcased his longstanding interest in structure, form, and system. Trees, dancers, and faces disassemble into calculated parts. Throughout a long and prodigious artistic career, and in his role as a teacher at CalArts in Los Angeles, Gaines demands careful and precise examination of the structural conditions of experience. His work springs from conceptualism, but its engine is a critique of representation, the urgency of which inevitably stems from his position as an African-American artist in a predominantly white art world. In his work, the subjective and the structural are conditioned by each other, and crucially, they must be mediated by indivisible human intellect and aesthetic sensibility. The divide between two things is never self-evident. For Gaines, nothing, not even the positioning of astral bodies, is taken for granted.

In Night/Crimes, you combine images of reported crime and the night sky. The work evokes both fate and the absence of fate—the smallness of human actions. What’s the relation between the idea of chance and fate?

Night/Crimes was probably the first work where I really focused on the idea of representation. I was interested in addressing the relationship between affect and the image, or how the image produces affect, and what that might have to do with meaning. What I wanted to do was to create a narrative situation where meaning is produced but it isn’t connected with intentionality.

I got photographs of the night sky, photographs of crime scenes and photographs of convicted murderers, and in the piece I combined those three photographs and made linkages between them. For example the subject of the crime itself established the link between the crime scene and the convicted murderer. And that linkage was sort of reinforced by the night sky, because the night sky represents the way the sky looked at the moment that crime was committed, which is to say that if the victim and the murderer looked up at the night sky at the moment of the crime they would see the sky that is represented in the photograph.

These are circumstantial linkages. The murderers pictured in the mug shot-type photographs are not the ones who have committed the crimes you see in the crime scene. Nevertheless, it seems compelling to people to override the fact that this relationship is completely made up. Those causal linkages are determined by pre-existing narratives that we adopt socially and culturally. By establishing that both of them share a particular moment, there’s this compelling narrative suggesting that the sky had something to do with the event. Horoscopes do that. There are certain standard narratives about how physical bodies can affect individual moods, about the relation between the planetary movements and the tides, and about the tides and emotions. I wanted to establish that that causal link was false, in the same way that the relation between the murderer and the crime scene is false. So it’s a general critique of art.

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Further Reading


To go along with his essay Beyond MLK, Lorenzo Raymond and TNI have produced a list of articles, books and multimedia that elucidate a radical history of MLK Jr, the Selma campaign and its context. It is, of course, partial and only a starting place, but we hope that it can help.


Debunking the Great Leader Myth

Peter Ling on King and the Great Leader Myth

Mumia Abu Jamal on Women Leaders and the Evolution of Martin Luther King

Jonathan David Farley “A Black King Did Not Redeem Us

Riot, Militancy, and the Context of the Selma Campaign

Associated Press on “The Whirlwinds of Revolt” August 29, 1963

Gloria Richardson’s Campaign in Cambridge, Maryland

A Local Paper Looks Back at the Rochester Riot of 1964

Open Telegram That Malcolm X Sent to the American Nazi Party Before Going to Selma

The Black Commentator on Malcolm X’s Contribution at Selma

Selma Leader Prathia Hall on Nonviolence and Self-Defense

NAACP Chair Roy Wilkins on the Connections Between the Harlem Riot and Selma, “Selma adds to the store of local resentments that build to riot heat.”

Oral History: Civil Rights Movement Veterans Recall Tensions Between King’s SCLC and SNCC at Selma

Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin on Selma, SNCC, and the SCLC

Twitter discussion on #Selma2Ferguson

Beyond Selma

Beyond Vietnam” Speechwriter Vincent Harding on How Militants Pushed MLK

Tef Poe in Ferguson: The Democratic Party Has Failed Us

People in Watts Used to be Ashamed”: on the effects of the 1965 riots in Watts, Los Angeles

Young Protesters Talk Back to Oprah and the “black elite”

Adolph Reed, “Black particularity reconsidered” – on “how the management of black dissent by the black American middle-class/professional elite helped restructure capitalism to its own advantage”

Peter Gelderloos, “Learning from Ferguson


To Watch and Listen

Robert F. Williams and the Militants of the Monroe, North Carolina NAACP Interviewed in 1959

MLK Press Conference on the Harlem Riot of 1964

Malcolm X Addresses Selma Protesters, February 4, 1965

2003 Film ‘Deacons for Defense’, starring Forest Whittaker

Excerpt from No Guns for Negroes on the Deacons for Defense

Eyes on the Prize Episode on Selma, “Bridge to Freedom”

Interview with Robert F. Williams on why the power structure wants us to remember Dr. King

I Mix What I Like: More on the Inconvenient Dr. King and Selma

Giant Steps: Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle (part 1, 2)



John Alfred Williams, The King God Didn’t Save: Reflections on the Life and Death of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Putnam, 1970)

Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision (University of North Carolina Press, 2003) (PDF)

Timothy B. Tyson, Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of “Black Power” (University of North Carolina Press, 1999)

Christopher Strain, Pure Fire: Self-Defense as Activism in the Civil Rights Era (University of Georgia Press, 2005)

Lance Hill, Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement (University of North Carolina Press, 2006)

Charles E. Cobb, This Non-Violence Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible (Basic Books, 2014) (PDF)

Michael Eric Dyson, I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King Jr (Simon & Schuster, 2001)