As a native Brooklynite, I feel intimately connected to the Crown Heights Riot. I was only 9 years old in the summer of 1991, but I remember the tension that gripped the city and the fear that permeated every public exchange. Brooklyn was transformed under martial law; police lined the hot August streets and we were transfixed by endless reports of violence, of blood, of anarchical terror.
I created One of the Cars that Got Burned as a testament to the class-driven, religious and racially fueled eruption that forced New Yorkers, Americans and the world at large to critically analyze the ‘Melting Pot’ euphemism and to confront the conflicting voices that were straining to be heard. I gathered newspaper articles and headlines from the Daily News spanning from that tense week of August 19th to the 26th of ’91. I chose the Daily News deliberately, in favor of The New York Times or other national papers that covered the riots. As “New York’s Hometown paper,” I found it a strangely reliable if vulgar conduit of the extreme social energy, racial and geographical conflict, and religious and secular factions surrounding the event.
Using scanned articles and images digitally overlaid to recreate the endemic chaos, the piece is done in bold strokes of newspaper black and white and red – paralleling the violent shrieking energy and the starkness of the issues: White Jew versus Black Caribbean, and joined in blood and rage, while smaller subsets in shades of gray focus on the more ambiguous human elements at play – quotes from neighborhood residents; observances from community members highlight the similarity of frustration, of struggle, of fear and of love. The numbers represent an attempt to piece together a story; map a linear progression; understand the roots of violence; the expression of “hatred.” The story has 20 parts, representing the two decades that have passed since the riots, and ends with a quote from a Jewish woman which begs the question of responsibility. Via the explosion of all these elements in Brooklyn, a city that brings together in intimate association the people of all nations of the world, we are asked the questions: What is the nature of community? Are we our brothers’ keepers?
This piece was featured in CROWN HEIGHTS GOLD, an exhibition that commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Crown Heights Riot. Check out the invitation, press release and my artwork & statement for the exhibit. CROWN HEIGHTS GOLD opens July 28, 2011, and runs until October 30th, at the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Center’s Skylight Gallery.