Untitled (A Panel For Kalief Browder (May 25, 1993-June 6, 2015))
Charcoal, Pencil, India Ink on Canvas
120 x 60 inches, 2015-2016
This is an incomplete work that addresses the story of Kalief Browder, a 16-year-old black student from the Bronx who was arrested while walking home. Kalief was accused of stealing a book bag (a claim which he vehemently denied) and wound up imprisoned at Rikers Island. He was locked up for three long years awaiting his trial (though he was never charged with anything), during which time he was violently assaulted by inmates and abused by correctional officers. After his release, even though Kalief gained a measure of celebrity as his story became known (the New Yorker published an extensive article on him, the rapper Jay-Z and Rosie O’Donnell both knew him) Kalief remained traumatized over his stay in Rikers, and attempted suicide several times. On June 6, 2015, Kalief successfully ended his own life. No one at Rikers or beyond has ever been held accountable for his abuse and death.
In this work, I liken Kalief’s story to that of Ganymede, a young Greek mythological hero who is abducted by Zeus (in the form of an eagle), who, in certain versions of the story, is interested in having sexual relations (rape) with Ganymede on account of his irresistible beauty. Here, I am conflating the identities of Zeus and America (bald eagle), and Ganymede and Kalief. I am interested in the degree to which we elect to believe that Kalief is complicit in his own abduction, violation, and death. I am also interested in reimagining the bald eagle, in many ways a symbol of “American Exceptionalism,” not as a majestic bird of honor, but as a monster; a scavenging, pilfering entity. This work is still in progress—to be completed by 2017.