Last night, Berlin-based performance artist Ligia Lewis presented her latest work, Minor Matter, at Human Resources L.A. Inspired by two jam-packed discussions at HRLA called “Decolonizing the White Box”, which addressed racism and exclusion in the art world, Lewis spent two weeks choreographing the piece and scoring it, with help from her brother George Lewis Jr. (also known as the popular alt-rocker Twin Shadow).
The piece began (and ended) with a single performer, Kenneth Nicholson, lying on his back in the corner reciting observations about the vast white space–light fixtures, wall sockets, cracks and smudges in the plaster. Suddenly the lights switched to red, and the piece’s title was repeatedly invoked: “minor” for the minority, “major” for the majority.
Nicholson traced lines on the cement floor along with his recitations, creating clear demarcations between the “majority” and the “other.” His script was a hodgepodge of humor, dark poetic observations, and historic ephemera like mourning songs and slave commands. Nicholson’s movements became more frenetic, as he patted his legs (as a police officer would check for weapons) and slamming himself against the wall, arms raised (in the position of being frisked).
At a poignant climax, Nicholson asked the crowd, standing at a microphone and backlit by the red and blue of police lights, “How did we get from this–” clenching his fist in the symbol of Black Power– “to this–” raising his hands in the “don’t shoot!” position of Ferguson activists.
It was then that the title gathered new meaning. The Black Lives Matter movement insists on something so seemingly inalienable that it trades the language of self-empowerment and separatism – central tenets of the Black Power movement – for an appeal to basic human decency. Yet for Black Americans who consistently face police violence, that’s no minor matter. It’s a question of life or death.
Note: this post has been up-dated on June 18, 2020 on the request of the author.