By Maxwell Young, Special to the AFRO
What’s black and white and re(a)d all over? This newspaper you might be reading, of course, but also the expressive imprint of Washington, D.C.-based conceptual artist, Maps Glover’s symbolic motifs that encase the interior of Transformer Gallery located in Logan Circle.
The riddle is not something he considered when he envisioned what the striking images of his month-long exhibition would come to represent; however, part of the impetus for ‘What We Leave Behind: In the Name of Art’ resides in The Washington Post’s unsettling dataset, Fatal Force.
“The Washington Post has been keeping this database of all the police killings,” Glover told the AFRO just days before the September 15 opening of his curated show. “You can dig deeper and see specifically how many bodies based on race have been killed.”
In 2018 alone, 710 people have been shot and killed by police. The database organizes the incidents by several criteria, but when considering race, 279 of these people were White while 128 were Black and 97 were Hispanic, leaving the other 206 people unknown. Among these lives lost were unarmed civilians like Rashaun Washington, Cynthia Fields, and Antwon Rose along with the 2,945 people that have been shot and killed by police since the database started in 2015.
“It’s genocide. You have to sort through these things, this disposal,” the 26 year-old artist said.
A graduate of Delaware College of Art and Design, Glover is not afraid to elevate the topic of police shootings with his performance art. For Adam’s Morgan Day in Northwest, D.C. several weeks ago, he and frequent collaborator Maya Sun wanted the average person to confront what lifeless, Black bodies look like. They laid face-down on the water-logged pavement as people blithely walked passed, enjoying the festivities. Now, in the narrow gallery space of Transformer, Glover has transmuted that performance piece into a two-dimensional black and white mural of bodies that are embedded into a multi-layered pattern painted on the walls. Their eight contorted bodies and angular outlines are reminiscent of chalk drawings of homicide victims.
Glover further quantifies this year’s police shooting data with the folding, stringing, and hanging of 710 red paper planes that spiral upwards to the skylight recessed in the ceiling nook of the studio.
“They represent bodies that are lost. They represent transportation and movement,” he explained. “They represent the never-ending consistency of [police brutality].”
It’s hard to ignore these planes and the intention they serve in Glover’s exhibition. The sheer number of them jutting into the interwoven conversation of Glover’s Keith Haring-esque line patterns creates a stark juxtaposition that becomes this “structural web of information and knowledge that is difficult to dissect without context.”
Over time, Glover realized his red planes also resembled hearts and added a whole new meaning. “Now they connect me to this idea of what you like and social media…That’s the action that’s going to be taken in this space,” he said.
Glover wasn’t wrong. In fact, friends, family, and the wandering eyes from the sidewalk piled into Transformer, snapping photos.
Jamal Gray, D.C. based producer and band leader of Nag Champa Art Ensemble, collaborated with Glover on the audio component and interpreted this social media craze. At one point, the audio accompaniment featured Glover repeating the word “like,” incessantly, as if he was mimicking the repetitive double-tapping thumbs drum out on Instagram feeds. Gray then sped up and distorted this program-like rhythm, alluding to a computer malfunctioning and freezing in error.
Some bystanders weren’t sure what to think let alone feel, though, as Glover was carried into Transformer on the shoulders of friends and collaborators Elijah Williamson and Woods Chase.
“Is he okay,” one woman wondered, watching from the sidewalk.
Glover appeared lifeless, tightly wrapped in string from head-to-toe by Corcoran student Yacine Fall. The scene evoked images of pallbearers in a funeral procession or Jesus Christ being enshrouded and removed from the cross. Inside the gallery, Glover awakened and broke free of his bondage only to be re-tied. He shed a tear looking up at his red planes, his arms forced open forming a “T” on a wooden plank like he was a crucifix—sacrificed in the name of art.
“In thinking about what I’m leaving behind, I’m leaving behind these restraints. It’s like my contribution to the church. I’m leaving behind my restraints of boxing myself into those identities on the wall,” Glover said.
Open daily until October 20, What We Leave Behind: In the Name of Art is Maps Glover’s first curatorial experience. Although it is his vision that fills in the context of the installation, he is also relying on the creative direction of the Uptown Art House and TRASHPASS collectives to activate the space as the exhibition progresses. Woods Chase, Yacine Fall, Jamal Gray, Maya Sun, and Elijah Williamson, who were all integral to Glover’s preparation and debut performance, will each conduct their own Saturday evening shows complete with movement, audio, and visuals.
“It’s been so cool having everyone come and experience [the exhibition] and be a part of it, supportive of it,” Glover said. “They believe in my ability to convey difficult ideas in a beautiful way.”
Transformer Gallery is located at 1404 P St, NW.