A new Fort Greene art installation, “Witnessing,” uses antiquated emergency call boxes to honor victims of modern-day police brutality. Six 7-foot-tall call boxes outfitted with screens and placed around the plaza at 300 Ashland broadcast video testimonials from victims and survivors of police violence.
The exhibit was originally created by Bradley McCallum over 20 years ago in collaboration with Jacqueline Tarry in response to the citywide protests following the police abuse of Abner Louima in 1997 and Amadou Diallo in 1999. The artist decided to revisit the project to reiterate the ongoing fight to end racism, violence and the abuse of power within the criminal justice system.
“’Witnessing’ engages with the lived experiences of suffering and how people are affected by abuses of power daily,” McCallum said. “I hope the public climate has shifted enough for people — especially the authorities, politicians and policymakers — to understand ‘Witnessing’ as a monument to our shared humanity. As the father of a mixed-race son who is now 19 years old, I appreciate firsthand the fear that comes with systemic racism and the challenges we face in policing our democracy.”
After receiving funding from the state’ Downtown Revitalization Initiative to display more public art and revitalize neighborhoods, the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and Dumbo Art Fund, who partnered to bring “Witnessing” to the plaza, wanted to present projects that are timely and engaging, said Downtown Brooklyn Partnership President Regina Myer.
“Building on the mission of the Downtown Brooklyn + Dumbo Art Fund, ‘Witnessing’ will not only activate our shared spaces but also offer our community a place to connect, reflect and interact,” Myer said in a statement. “We’re proud to showcase ‘Witnessing’ in the heart of Downtown Brooklyn’s thriving cultural district and look forward to seeing residents, visitors, workers and students engage with this important piece of public art.”
“Witnessing” shares the intimate stories of eight New Yorkers: Anthony Baez, Nicholas Heward Jr., Anthony Rosario, Hilton Vega, Yong Xin Huang, Anibal Calderon, Frankie Arzuaga and Nathanial Levi Gaines through exclusive interviews with their family members, police officers and social justice activists.
Earlier this year, the Downtown Brooklyn + Dumbo Art Fund opened “Mind Forged Manacles/Manacle Forged Minds,” a 10-foot-high sculpture touching on themes of incarceration and dividing communities. That installation was also funded by the Downtown Revitalization Initiative.
The installation opened to the public on September 30 and will be on display until January of 2023 with the help of many community partners like the Dumbo Improvement District, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Action Network.
“This is an important work — it will be encountered by the community in a way that only public art can achieve,” said Alexandria Sica, president of the Dumbo Improvement District. “We are so proud to be presenting it through the Downtown Brooklyn + Dumbo Art Fund.”
Editor’s note: A version of this story originally ran in Brooklyn Paper. Click here to see the original story.