A ‘freeze within Frieze’: Art fair protest calls attention to police violence at traffic stops
About 30 protesters gathered at the entrance of the Frieze Los Angeles art fair wearing red shirts with “I Am Keenan Anderson” printed on the front. On the back: “I was killed by a cop at a traffic stop.” One by one they stepped forward to read the names of people who have died after a traffic stop, from Philando Castile in 2016 to Anderson last month. Some patrons of the exclusive art event stopped to watch and listen; some just walked by. The names echoed just the same as the protesters chanted: “How many must fall until we’re able to stand?”
People couldn’t help but hear.
Anderson died after Los Angeles police officers repeatedly stunned him with a Taser at the intersection of Venice and Lincoln boulevards. Seven minutes away, people gathered Saturday at the Santa Monica Airport for one of the largest and most influential art fairs in California. The sold-out event became the backdrop for Patrisse Cullors, Anderson’s cousin, and for choreographer JaQuel Knight to lead a protest calling attention to the death of Black people at traffic stops.
“This performance disruption is about making them pay attention to what’s happening around them outside of the expensive gallery walls,” said Cullors, an artist and co-founder of Black Lives Matter.
She said she was motivated by Frieze’s lack of response to its proximity — physically and temporally — to Anderson’s death. “If they were paying attention, they would have said something,” she said.
After the protest Saturday, a spokesperson for the art fair told The Times: “Frieze supports everyone’s right to peaceful protest and respects the views expressed by the groups that have assembled today.”
Cullors wanted to keep her cousin’s name alive, adding that the “hashtags keep rolling” with reports of Black people dying after encounters with the police. Cullors’ agent at CAA connected her to Knight, who is known for choreographing for Beyoncé and Megan Thee Stallion. He said his decision to help organize the protest was easy.
“Any chance that I have to align with Black people, to uplift Black people and to continue the legacy of Blackness, I’m always in,” he said.
Cullors and Knight scouted Frieze on Thursday to get a scope of the fair and to plan an effective way to get people’s attention. They gathered Friday morning at Mihran K. Studios in Burbank to rehearse.
Knight shared the plan with their group: Go into the fair in pairs, sit at benches strewn across the floor, stand at the same time and share the names and stories of the people who have died after a traffic stop.
Videos released this week of a teacher who died after Los Angeles police discharged a Taser on him at least six times on a Venice street raise serious concerns about the officers’ tactics, law enforcement experts who reviewed the tapes said.
“We are going to take up space in a way that was taken from us,” Cullors said. “It feels inspiring to have the opportunity to be with all of us Black folks inside of this space that doesn’t want us there, to take up the space anyway and to lift up the names of people who some of these people will not even know.”
During the rehearsal, participants read the names of the deceased, their aspirations and their family members. By the time the circle got to Darius Williams, he shared the story of Anderson, concluding, “He was my brother.”
Knight instructed the group to chant the question, “How many must fall until we’re able to stand?” and walk to the wall. Standing at the center of the studio, he said, “This is bigger than we know.”
In an interview after the rehearsal, Knight said, “Once you understand that this is your brother, this could be your sister, this was your mom, this was your dad — it turns the experience upside down. That was the importance of today, so we can truly understand the why of it all.”
Saturday morning, protesters gathered at Lincoln and Venice in front of Deus Cafe. People sat on the ground writing on the back of T-shirts, “I was killed by a cop at a traffic stop,” in black Sharpie. While the plan was to bring light to a darker reality, they embraced one another with joy, support and laughter as they put the finishing touches on the shirts — a splash of spray paint here and a thicker underline there.
After Keenan Anderson died after an encounter with LAPD officers in which he was tased repeatedly, relatives filed a $50-million wrongful-death claim.
Protesters made the 40-minute-plus walk to Frieze, going past outdoor art pieces and under Autumn Breon’s public installation, “Leisure Lives,” which is dedicated to Black joy at Bay Street Beach. Members of the group made it to the entrance, but because some did not have tickets, they were unable to go inside as originally planned. Instead, they opted to perform their protest in front of security.
Patrons entering the fair faced a sea of red shirts and heard accounts of Black people experiencing police brutality. Cullors said that those attending Frieze — where general admission runs about $100 — included a target audience of elected officials and wealthy people with power to make a structural change.
“The only way that they’re allowed to be here is because of what has happened to us,” Cullors said. “I think that’s really important for them to take that pause, to pay attention.”
As protesters read the names of the dead, people walking by murmured, “Is this a protest?” and “Who is Keenan Anderson?” Some pretended not to hear.
At the conclusion of the chant, members of Cullors’ group hugged one another, letting out the tears they had held back.
“I hope it causes an actual freeze within Frieze,” Knight said. “A moment of stillness for everyone to take a beat and realize that life is happening outside of these walls.”
In a span of 25 hours, encounters with Los Angeles police officers resulted in the deaths of three men of color. Could a change in tactics long asked for by activists have prevented them?
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