Public Art from the Ferguson Unrest

Monday, 11 July 2016: 09:15
Location: Hörsaal 14 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Jacqueline HENKE, Purdue University, USA
On August 9th, 2014, in the American city of Ferguson, MO, on-duty police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown Jr. The shooting was highly controversial because 1) Michael Brown was a black teenager and Darren Wilson was a white police officer and 2) several witnesses reported that Brown was holding his hands in the air when he was fatally shot. Immediately following the shooting, members of the Ferguson community sought an explanation for Brown's death. The Ferguson Police Department, however, refused to identify Brown's shooter, explain why Brown was initially stopped, or account for why Wilson used deadly force. Unable to get answers, a group of local residents gathered to protest near the shooting site. Ferguson PD responded to the protesters with exceptional force. They utilized tear gas, rubber bullets, noise machines, and mass arrests. In the months afterwards, people from around the country came to Ferguson to protest Brown's death and the Ferguson PD's use of force. During these months, some protest activity turned violent. Local businesses were burglarized, damaged, or set on fire. Many businesses boarded their windows after sustaining damages or preparing for possible damage. Dozens of these boards became the site of public art, primarily murals. While conducting fieldwork in Ferguson, I photographed this art and, later, I collected photographs from journalist, artists group, and protester websites. I then analyzed how the messages and images of art varied by time and place, particularly how the themes in the art differed between the early and later stages of protest and how it varied from East Ferguson to West Ferguson. In this presentation, I will 1) discuss the challenges of collecting data in a rapidly-changing public landscape; (2) explain the process of analyzing art using a geo-spatial and time-varying approach; and (3) outline the project's findings.