The sudden stream of irrefutable documentation of police brutality is broadly credited to the smartphone revolution that put movie studios in all of our pockets, but the phenomenon actually started years before cell phones and social media virality: it started with the abuse of Rodney King in LA, 25 years ago. The acquittal of the officers in that horrific beating sparked the LA riots, and its impact echoed through the years of the city’s history, influencing even, in just one example, the trial of O.J. Simpson.
Now, Viral, an exhibit at Los Angeles’ Social and Public Art Resource Center’s Durón Gallery, traces artists’ responses to police brutality over the course of the 25 years since Rodney King. For curator and community arts organizer Daryl Elaine Wells, whose brother died under suspicious circumstances in 2013, the work is also deeply personal. “This show was put together in honor of my late brother, Paul, who had been harassed by police throughout his life,” she writes. " Although it appears he did not die at the hand of law enforcement, as a black man struggling with mental illness, he had been especially vulnerable to the same altercations with law enforcement that African Americans, and young black males in particular, struggle with across America. His death incited me to start collecting work about the issue of police brutality, and I started Art Responders [a social media initiative of artistic responses to police violence] in his memory."
The exhibit features a broad range of artworks, from VR film Perspectives 2: The Misdemeanor, which, according to Wells, “[puts] us in the shoes of a young black man caught in a fatal police encounter,” to video game The First Person Shooter Task, which finds the player in the position of a police officer who must make a lightning quick decision whether or not to use his weapon. "Combining such new forms with more traditional 2-D media, data visualizations, and informative text, Viral aims to educate members of the public about the complexity of the issue and the many possible approaches towards effective change,” she writes.
Viral: 25 Years from Rodney King opens at the Durón Gallery on April 9th.