Invoking Black Struggle for Justice in Installation Opens May 14 at Oakland City Hall

By Randolph Belle

A traveling exhibit that chronicles the history of black repression in the United States has arrived in Oakland for installation this week at Frank Ogawa Plaza.

Support Oakland Artists, an Oakland-based 501(C)3, in partnership with Society’s Cage to present the acclaimed social justice art installation in front of Oakland City Hall May 9-30, 2022.

Society’s Cage is an accessible open-air pavilion comprising 500 suspended steel bars that form a cavernous cube with a habitable void allowing visitors to experience the symbolic weight of institutional racism.

This immersive experience offers the opportunity to consider the severity of racial bias within our institutional justice structures and allows for moments of reflection and healing.

The designers, Dayton Schroeter, Julian Arrington, Monteil Crawley and Ivan O’Garro, created the installation to contextualize the contemporary phenomenon of police killings of Black Americans within the continuum of more than 400 years of racialized state violence in the United States. United.

It is a data-driven installation, shaped in response to the question “What is the value of black life in America?” »

The Oakland installation will be the first on the West Coast as it moves nationwide to sites of symbolic power tied to justice, freedom and democracy. Originating in Washington, D.C. on the National Mall in response to the 2020 killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Society’s Cage continued its journey as an interpretive lens highlighting historical forces of racialized state violence in the states. -United.

Other sites have included War Memorial Plaza in Baltimore, Maryland, and the Vernon AME Chapel site in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre and the destruction of the Greenwood District, known as the Black Wall Street.

Oakland is an ideal site for settling as the home of the Black Panther Party, which was founded to fight the legacy of police oppression, unfair incarceration practices and remnants of slavery. in the form of state-sponsored terrorism against black people.

In 2009, the killing of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old unarmed black passenger by BART police in Oakland, sparked organized local and regional protests that catalyzed a national movement.

Support Oakland Artists Executive Director Randolph Belle atop the installation called 'Society's Cage' as it is being assembled.  Photo courtesy of Facebook.

Support Oakland Artists Executive Director Randolph Belle atop the installation called ‘Society’s Cage’ as it is being assembled. Photo courtesy of Facebook.

“We were inspired to create the installation in response to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor,” says Dayton Schroeter, principal designer of Society’s Cage and director of design at SmithGroup, which has offices in San Francisco. “The pavilion is a real and raw reflection of the conversations about racism that are taking place right now. It is a physical manifestation of the institutional structures that have undermined the progress of black Americans throughout this country’s history.

“The name Society’s Cage refers to societal constraints that limit the prosperity of the black community,” says Julian Arrington, who led the design with Schroeter and is a partner at SmithGroup. “The pavilion creates an experience to help visitors understand and recognize these impacts of racism and be inspired to create change.”

“It only took me a moment to commit to this project,” said Randolph Belle, executive director of Support Oakland Artists. “In my more than 30 years in Oakland as an artist and community developer, I have strived to use the arts to thoughtfully engage audiences around important, timely topics. This project, this site and these times are an unprecedented example.

Visitors are encouraged to participate in a shared experience upon entering the pavilion. After holding their breath for as long as they can, evoking the common plea of ​​victims of police killings, “I can’t breathe”, visitors then post a video reflecting their experience on social media using the hashtag #SocietysCage. This exercise aims not only to create empathy, but also to extend the impact of the online installation to allow anyone to participate in this shared exercise.

The pavilion was manufactured by Gronning Design + Manufacturing LLC in Washington, DC, and Mejia Ironworks in Hyattsville, Maryland. A soundscape was commissioned from a composer duo, Raney Antoine Jr. and Lovell “UP” Cooper.

Comprised of four pieces, each lasting eight minutes and 46 seconds in recognition of the time George Floyd endured under the knee of the police, they are themed to reflect each of the four institutional forces that have sculpted the interior of the flag – mass incarceration, police terrorism, capital punishment and racist lynchings.

Early sponsors who have made hosting the company’s Cage Oakland facility possible include the Akonadi Foundation, the Tarbell Family Foundation, individual sponsors including directors of SmithGroup’s San Francisco office, corporate sponsorships, including SmithGroup, and many community partners, including BIG Oakland.

Jeremy Crandall and Emax Exhibits formed the Oakland installation team.

A public unveiling is scheduled for Saturday, May 14, 2022 at 11 a.m., and a scheduled event featuring local cultural artists is scheduled for Sunday, May 29, 2022 at 7 p.m. Participating individuals and organizations include original members of the Black Panther Party, the Black Cultural Zone, HipHopTV, and a host of local artists.

For more information, visit www.societyscage.com to find a link to the donation site. Additional donations will help with programming and documentation related to Oakland’s activation.

Randolph Belle is the executive director of Support Oakland Artists and RBA Creative studio in Oakland.

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