Rico Washington and Shino Yanagawa are a documentary team. He is a journalist; she is a photographer. Together, they create projects that will encourage dialogue around issues they deem important. They call their brand of collaboration artivism. And, as their current project demonstrates, they can be extremely spontaneous.
After the Eric Garner verdict and consequent protests in late 2014, Washington was inspired to put together a project that would engage community youth, families and , hopefully, the Mayor and the NYPD. The exhibition is called Finding Dante. It draws from Mayor DeBlasio’s campaign ads, where he and his son, Dante, spoke about protecting young Black men from unjust stop-and-frisks. But, the idea for the exhibition was ignited when Washington noticed young men of color, whom resembled Dante, participating in a die-in at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in December. Even though the young men shared physical features with Dante, the writer wondered how different their police interactions might’ve been than the mayor’s son – whose security detail would now shield him from many of the encounters faced by these young men. That’s when he and Yanagawa went to work.
Due to the urgency of the matter, Washington and Yanagawa found and interviewed their subjects, developed the text and graphics, and assembled this exhibition with no budget and very little time. In this first installment of Finding Dante, Yanagawa’s rich, biographic images are flanked by Washington’s investigative writings and eye-popping graphics. The photographs feature young New York men with afros – the youngest subject is a preschooler, even named Dante. Text is drawn from interviews with mothers and subjects – all expressing their impressions of the NYPD, growing concerns about police relationships, and even their hair. The exhibition also includes a wall where visitors can leave Post-it notes for the Mayor and the NYPD.
On view at one of chashama’s pop-up gallery spaces, at 1351 Amsterdam Avenue in Harlem, the exhibition makes a big splash from the street. Washington’s graphics, bearing stylized words and giant afro picks are a real draw in two front windows. Three powerful installations of Yanagawa’s photographed men appear in another large window. Inside, the exhibition seems sparse for the 3000 foot raw space but is, nonetheless, powerful. You can see that it is a promising work in progress.
The artists have been grateful for the opportunity to present Finding Dante in its formative stages, and gauge community interest at chashama. Washington said the exhibit only began to gain traction its final week – garnering recognition from NY1, the metro, and The Amsterdam News in its very last days. In its next life, the artists envision the inclusion of daily dialogue between youth, community groups, schools, neighbors, mentors, the NYPD and even the Mayor. So far, there has been no response to the exhibit from DeBlasio’s office but, with this project on the rise, that seems certain to change.
Finding Dante exhibited from February 8 - March 8, 2015 at chashama. Visit www.findingdante.org to follow the project and find out where it will pop up next.
chashama supports artists by transforming unused real estate into free and subsidized work and presentation space. Learn more at www.chashama.org
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