Reflections on Ebony Patterson's Installation, "When They Grow Up"

Two weeks ago, twelve people from "The New Jim Crow" group at St. Mark's visited The Studio Museum in Harlem to see a "site specific, mixed-media installation by Ebony G. Patterson on the subject of violence committed against young people of color (including deadly police actions) and the fears that focus on these same young people, who, in the eyes of too many people, appear as threats rather than victims. In the artist’s words, 'These children are often described as adults. Their blackness overrules the presumption of innocence.'” Images of black youth in "hand-embellished, large-scale, photo-based wall works were juxtaposed with a variety of elements associated with childhood and race".  We entered a bright pink playroom with familiar toys along the walls, looking as if children had just left the space . As we looked more closely, we saw bedazzled guns, 3-D butterflies on the walls, balloons suspended from the ceiling, and photographs of children bedazzled in ways that suggested icons or images of Hindu deities.  “I am hoping to create a moment of beauty, 'sainthood,' and humanity,” Patterson states, “and to call into question the stereotypes that are projected about black youth."

We had a wonderful docent who facilitated conversation about gun violence, race, class in the Patterson exhibit as well as in an exhibit by Rodney McMillian, "Main Street."  Jon Plant said that those conversations helped him see Michelle Alexander's work in a more holistic light--so much of the work we need to do as Christians in the world is to keep making connections across issues.

The New Jim Crow group is now scheduling a meeting with Jill Harris, of the ACLU National Project to Reduce Prison Population, and New York Civil Liberties Union, reviewing some of the many organizations working on various aspects of mass incarceration, and looking for specific actions St. Mark's can take to advocate and work with formerly- and currently- incarcerated people and their families.  Anyone is welcome to join this ad hoc group; a next meeting date will be posted soon.

-- Rev. Allison Moore