Why was an artist “swarmed” by the police during a performance at the Miami Art Fair?

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On Tuesday afternoon, artist Xxavier Edward Carter was about five minutes away from his performance “Sisyphus and the Myth of the New World,” as part of the Satellite Art Show in Miami, when a beach patrol passed by and brought him up. asked to put on his shorts. Carter immediately complied and continued with the play, which involves throwing rocks into the ocean to play as “an individual in relentless strain.”

Minutes later, however, five Miami Beach police approached Carter and accused him of indecent exposure, according to the artist, who initially conceived the work as a nude performance. As Carter was explaining the concept of the room to his gallery owner, artist Krista Chalkley, other law enforcement personnel arrived on the scene; video of the incident shows eight police officers and a public security officer surrounding them at one point.

The artist said he was shocked by the number of police present and the escalation of the response, including repeated threats of criminal charges and prison terms.

“By the time they arrived, I was already dressed, as much as anyone on the beach,” Carter said in an interview with Hyperallergic. “It was really intense. The first question was: “What are you doing here? What could happen if you hit someone with a rock? They said if someone with a child complained about it, they could get me convicted of endangering a child, sexual misconduct, and I would face ten years.

An incident summary in a police report reviewed by Hyperallergic indicates that a public nudity complaint was received and mentions that the fair had not obtained a license to perform, but does not list any of the alleged charges raised by the agents. He concludes that “all parties complied and left the scene without further incident”. The Miami Beach Police Department (MBPD) did not respond to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.

The artist says the officers threatened criminal charges and jail time. (courtesy of Performance is Alive)

Quinn Dukes, performance curator for Satellite, said she was dismissed and threatened with a five-year sentence as well as a fine of at least $ 1,000 for the fair.

“[Carter] was swarmed, there were at least 12 officers, it was completely excessive. I forgot I was told to stay in an area and one of the officers grabbed his Taser when I started to walk forward, ”Dukes told Hyperallergic. “The intensity of all the officers was pretty high, even though we were incredibly docile, we listened, we explained. But the volume of police they sent surprised me a lot.

Two officers questioned the value of performance, Dukes said, and “asked [Carter] aggressively several times how this could be art.

“As a curator, I focus on performance and performance video projects, and I do so because there is this conception of performance art as a spectacle and not as a work. of art, ”she added. “It’s cases like this that reveal why the work we do is so necessary.”

Carter had performed “Sisyphus & The Myth of The New World” twice before, on the beaches of Sayulita, Mexico and San Francisco. He told Hyperallergic he had been approached by officers before, but was never forced to put the show on hold or have his props temporarily confiscated, as he did this week, let alone facing potential criminal charges of increasing gravity. When three helicopters flew over, Carter said, one of the officers told him they were “there to. [him]. “

“It was taken to the extreme and out of my control so quickly, it was a reminder that it is like that,” he said. “From the start of their arrival at the beach, there was no way I could defuse the situation.”

The experience was particularly unsettling, says the artist, given the specific context of the work, which engages with power dynamics affecting black and brown individuals. The performance reinvents the myth of Sisyphus to reflect on the violent legacy of colonialism, combining sporting references and beach decor to evoke “the work of exploited people of color”.

On Carter’s website, the entire installation is for sale, including props, video footage, and a copy of the MBPD police report. (The artist says he has already presented official documents in his work: for example, to demand that he donate a work to Southern Methodist After completing his MFA in college, he handed the school a sealed envelope filled with emails threatening to expel him for a performance that involved opening small scars all over his body.)

A Polaroid photograph of Carter’s performance, currently on display at the Satellite Art Show. (photo by and courtesy of Quinn Dukes)

During Tuesday’s confrontation, Dukes said, an officer suggested the performance was staged with the aim of provoking law enforcement and capturing her on camera – an accusation that appears to shed light on cases recent reports in which video footage revealed police misconduct, particularly against blacks.

“[He] implied that we were at the origin of this event, and anticipated that the police would come to film it. He asked us, “Did you organize this for us to come?” “,” Dukes told Hyperallergic. “I told him, the people here filming are filming the performance. We did not anticipate you. He was told to wait for a phone call regarding a potential fine for violating the code.

“It’s disappointing that the response has been so aggressive,” she continued. “Xxavier is a black man and unfortunately I slightly anticipated that we might have challenges, but not this one.”

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