ON THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF FREEDOM IN A COUNTRY FOUNDED ON SLAVERY AND GENOCIDE (2014) by Dread Scott
Scott Tyler, known professionally as Dread Scott, is an American artist whose works, often participatory in nature, focus on the experience of African Americans in the contemporary United States.
On the Impossibility of Freedom in a Country Founded on Slavery and Genocide (2014) is a record of Scott’s performance that referenced the 1963 Civil Rights struggle in Birmingham, Alabama, in which the government used high-pressure water jets from fire hoses against non-violent protesters and bystanders in an effort to maintain segregation and legalized discrimination. Attempting to walk forward against a surge of water and repeatedly being knocked down, Scott symbolically visualizes African Americans’ continued struggle for freedom in the face of the tacit structural racism that keeps them down. The work’s title also points to European settler colonialists who decimated the native population in what are now the Americas through violence and disease, and who seized their lands by introducing the concept of land ownership. For the Lenape, whose homelands include present-day New York City, land and water were communal assets. Enslaved Africans and their descendants could not own land in this country for generations. Today, we live in the shadow of European colonial values that have shaped policies perpetuating inequitable access to the land and contributing to the particular demography of homeless people in this city.
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