I have witnessed police brutality take the lives of Black women and men—in a seemingly endless loop of death, outrage, and amnesia—without proper retribution for as long as I can remember. This most recent cycle compounded with the COVID-19 crisis: the heartache of isolation, the madness of the person who currently occupies the Oval Office, and the fear of sickness has been wreaking havoc on my mental health, as well as the mental health of my friends. The ability for humanity to suffer tremendous injustice and sometimes irreparable harm and yet still be resilient and continue to breathe and create is something that I’ll never be able to fully comprehend.
In Baltimore I have seen a lot of people organizing, most recently the peaceful, youth-led protest on Monday, June 1. I’ve noticed others crafting their own forms of effective activism, as well as artists and creatives donating their artwork for various causes that all intend to disrupt the white supremacist system that continues to take the lives of Black people in America.
One such example is a print fundraiser organized by the artist Monsieur Zohore, in partnership with New Release Gallery and Palo Gallery, both based in New York. One hundred percent of the proceeds go directly to Baltimore Action Legal Team (BALT), an organization that offers legal services to protesters and has been operating a bail fund since April 2015, which they use “in times of crisis” to post as many bails as they can. If you purchase a print from this fundraiser, all of that money helps get someone out of jail.
These types of funds are critical because, along with these extrajudicial killings of people like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Black people are disproportionately affected by the prison industrial complex, are racially profiled by the police, unjustly arrested and then detained for long periods of time if they are unable to post bail. Most of the people who are in jail have not yet been convicted, and most who are held on bail have only been charged with low-level crimes. Although we can’t immediately fix the injustice of our criminal justice system and how it unfairly imprisons so many Black men and women, a bail fund like BALT’s creates a temporary and helpful bridge that allows people to be able to be released from jail before their trial and go home to their families.
When deciding on which images to use for this fundraiser, Zohore says he could’ve chosen something fun or frivolous, but he felt it was more important to be honest about what’s happening, to provide viewers with a reflection and reminder. Through performance, installation, and sculpture, Zohore explores queer history and his Ivorian-American heritage often through the lens of humor, economics, art history, and labor. He says the two photographic prints he chose—one shows him crying, the other has his head wrapped in tape—were most apt for these times.