A Project Honoring Victims of Police Violence Is Going Cross-Country

In 2022, the Brooklyn-based arts nonprofit WORTHLESSSTUDIOS hosted 1-800 Happy Birthday, a posthumous tribute to 12 Black and Brown people killed by police. Created by San Francisco-based artist Mohammad Gorjestani, the mission initially started in 2020 as a voicemail initiative that allowed folks to go away and hearken to messages for the victims on their birthdays. Two years later, it turned a large-scale interactive show that ran for 4 months in a warehouse on the border of East Williamsburg and Bushwick. The exhibition raised $12,000 in funds for the households of the exhibition’s “celebrants”: Dujuan Armstrong, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Stephon Clark, Fred Cox, Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, Xzavier Hill, Donovon Lynch, Sean Monterrosa, Tony “Terrell” Robinson Jr., and Mario Woods. 

Now, WORTHLESSSTUDIOS and Gorjestani’s movie manufacturing firm Even/Odd have partnered with the general public security advocacy group Campaign Zero for one more iteration of 1-800 Happy Birthday on a nationwide scale, slated to open in 2025. Working alongside Gorjestani and the celebrants’ households, the mission’s new fellow BJ McBride, an Oakland-based producer who co-founded the BE-Imaginative artist collective, will carry the tales of Armstrong, Bland, Castile, Clark, Cox, Garner, Grant, Hill, Lynch, Monterrosa, Robinson, and Woods to venues throughout the nation.

“I remember exactly where I was when it happened,” McBride informed Hyperallergic about his recollections of the 2015 police killing of Woods, who was 26 years-old on the time.

“I had taken that same route to my job in the financial district in San Francisco that morning,” McBride mentioned, recalling that it wasn’t till lunchtime that he noticed the information of Woods’s loss of life on social media.

In the aftermath of Woods’s police homicide, McBride joined his friends within the protests towards police violence and systemic racism, and he remembered questioning what would occur as soon as the information cycle modified and public backlash dwindled. Now, he hopes to carry 1-800 Happy Birthday again to his house on the West Coast, particularly given the area’s personal civil rights historical past and enduring police violence that continues to form its communities at present.

“The reality of this is that the police violence is still here,” McBride mentioned. “It’s not in the news cycle as much as it was [a few years ago,] but that doesn’t take away from the reality that it’s still something that our country needs to address.”

In addition to increasing the mission to different areas of the nation, Gorjestani informed Hyperallergic that he’s fascinated by facilitating the eventual return of the telephone cubicles to the celebrants’ communities.

“Phone booths were permanent structures in public space, so it would be nice to continue that,” Gorjestani mentioned, including that the crew has found out easy methods to energy the cubicles with photo voltaic vitality to allow them to be put in each indoors and outdoor.

They are additionally open to doubtlessly discovering a everlasting house for the set up, if given the chance.

“The whole concept of this project is to use art to inspire people to contemplate and investigate their own feelings and emotions about this epidemic of state violence,” he mentioned.

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