Necessary Force: Art in the Police State at the University of New Mexico Art Museum

On Friday September 18th, I (Rose) had a chance to visit with Traci Quinn, Curator of Education at the University of New Mexico (UNM) Art Museum and see the exhibition Necessary Force: Art in the Police State that opened a week prior. The exhibition was co-curated by Kymberly Pinder (dean of the UNM College of Fine Arts) and Karen Fiss (professor at the California College of Arts). It brings together historical photographs from the museum’s collection with contemporary artworks that shine light on different, yet interlocking facets of our increasingly policed society; facets such as police brutality, gun violence, surveillance, and police militarization. By focusing on the historical and systemic nature of our current police state, I found that the exhibition eschewed narrow “bad-cop” narratives, unabashedly communicating how atrocious individual actions take place within a deplorable system that defunds mental health services, refuses to pass gun law reforms, and does little to stop the school-to-prison pipeline. You can read more about the exhibition here and here.

Photo Credit: Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal

Photo Credit: Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal

In conjunction with the exhibition, Traci has been planning an event, a community roundtable, that will take place October 10th. For this roundtable, a dozen members of the community who work at the grassroots level organizing against police brutality and state violence have been invited to lead discussions on the important work they do. Attendees will be able to participate in these conversations and learn more about these local efforts that connect to the exhibition’s themes.

I was very interested to hear about how Traci has been preparing for this event. Since January, she’s been attending local Community Policing Councils on a regular basis. These councils are part of a series of mandated efforts aimed at reforming the Albuquerque Police Department and its excessive use of force against civilians. At these meetings, Traci has been able to learn more about the deep-seated issues of police violence in the city and meet others who’ve been working for years to address these issues. The community roundtable at the museum is emerging from these activities and connections.

My conversation with Traci made me reflect on how the work of building relationships with others in the community is often “invisible” in that it may or may not lead to immediate, tangible outcomes. In a paradigm that prioritizes quick and measurable outcomes, building relationships is inefficient and risky. Like we talked about in our most recent post on community building, forming relationships is better understood as a long-term investment rather than a product to capitalize on; an investment that requires loosening control and demands presence. How should we account for the invisibility and long-range nature of relationship building in our grant writing and activity reports? …especially as radical inclusion and transformation rests on establishing genuine, two-way relationships?     

Necessary Force: Art in the Police State will be on view in the museum’s main gallery until December 12th and is free to the public. A second blogpost featuring this exhibition will take place in December and will focus on the community roundtable.

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