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Necessary Force: Art in the Police State

University of New Mexico Art Museum, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
September 11, 2015 – December 12, 2015




Artists: Josh Begley, Center for Tactical Magic, Larry Clark, Max King Cap, Mel Chin, Nani Chacon, Nick Cave, Melvin Edwards, Anita Luttrell Fields, Harun Farocki, Jacques Fragua, Harry Gamboa/ASCO, Nicholas Herrera, Danny Lyon, Jeremy Mende, Charles Moore, Otabenga Jones & Associates, Trevor Paglen, Dread Scott, Hito Steyerl, LaShawnda Crowe Storm, Spatial Information Design Lab (Eric Cadora, Laura Kurgan, David Reinfurt, Sarah Williams), Charlene Teters, David Taylor, Hank Willis Thomas, Kara Tromp, William Karl Valentine, Andrew Wilson, Bernard Williams, Nafis M. White.

Necessary Force reflects an urgent need to speak to life in a society that is increasingly policed on many levels.  By bringing these works together, the curators and artists hope to encourage critical thinking and dialogue around the complex history of police violence in the United States. This history is not simply about “bad cops”. It is about the endemic gun violence across our country that claims thirty lives each day. It is about the steady militarization of local police forces around the nation and the “war on terror.” It is about the pervasive role of surveillance, public and private, in every facet of our lives.  This history includes institutionalized racism and class discrimination, which have fostered a society of inequity, distrust and intolerance. The growth of a powerful and lucrative prison industry has only served to exacerbate the punitive and divisive conditions brought about by long-term poverty, underfunded education and inadequate public healthcare.

The exhibition and the lectures, forums and other events planned in conjunction with it underscore that there are many causes of, and many potential solutions to, police violence. The sensationalist news media provides unlimited access to images of brutality and human suffering, which put our humanity at risk daily. Various artists in this exhibit challenge the media’s superficial treatment of important critical social issues by undertaking in-depth research. The visualization of their research exposes the vast amount of territory given over to prison complexes, and the disproportionate number of residents from specific urban neighborhoods that make up the majority of inmates locked up in these jails.

The curatorial choices also emphasize the role of photography in shaping public opinion as well as the longer-term matter of our shared history – how we come to know and remember it. While many of the participating artists have experienced racial profiling and even violence from law enforcement, it is through the media that all of them have learned of important incidents in this history from Birmingham to Ferguson. We have placed documentary photographs from the 1960s and 70s alongside work by contemporary artists to highlight the dialogue these artists are having with this powerful visual legacy. The juxtaposition of historic and recent imagery begs us to question: just how much has changed in the fifty years since the Civil Rights movement?

Photo: Geistlight
Courtesy of the artists and University of New Mexico Art Museum, Albuquerque


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