Ghana ThinkTank

Black Lives Matter Guerrilla Street Signs

in Transfers

Ghana ThinkTank has been “Developing the First World” since 2006. We collect problems in the so-called developed world, and send them to think tanks we established in Cuba, Ghana, Iran, Mexico, El Salvador, and the U.S. prison system to analyze and solve. Our network continues to grow …

Figure 1
Figure 1

The Ghana ThinkTank trailer collecting problems in Corona, Queens in 2011.

Photo credit: Christopher Robbins.

Citation: Transfers 6, 1; 10.3167/TRANS.2016.060111

Figure 2
Figure 2

The ThinkTank in Iran.

Photo credit: Christopher Robbins.

Citation: Transfers 6, 1; 10.3167/TRANS.2016.060111

Figure 3
Figure 3

The ThinkTank of Sudanese Refugees incarcerated in an Israeli detention camp in the Negev Desert.

Photo credit: Sohrab Kashani.

Citation: Transfers 6, 1; 10.3167/TRANS.2016.060111

We then implement the solutions they come up with—whether they seem impractical or brilliant. The “Black Lives Matters” signs trace their roots to a project dated to summer 2011 with Creative Time and Queens Museum of Art, in which problems that we collected in Corona, Queens, New York were sent to our network of think tanks to be solved. As part of this process, we produced official-looking municipal signs in order to establish “Legal Waiting Zones” along Roosevelt Avenue to address police harassment of immigrants in Corona, Queens.

Figure 4
Figure 4

Legal Waiting Zone Pilot in Corona, Queens, Summer 2011.

Photo credit: Christopher Robbins.

Citation: Transfers 6, 1; 10.3167/TRANS.2016.060111

Figure 5
Figure 5

The language for the Legal Waiting Zone signs came from interviews with people who said they had been harassed by police using an unconstitutional loiter law.

Photo credit: Christopher Robbins.

Citation: Transfers 6, 1; 10.3167/TRANS.2016.060111

Four years later, the Ghana ThinkTank “Black Lives Matter” guerrilla street signs are a series of “official” street regulation signs that point to the difference between the law as stated and as implemented; they ask people to consider the ways they may be complicit in the unequal application of laws according to race. These signs were designed in the workshop Ghana ThinkTank ran with students at the State University of New York (SUNY), Purchase College School of Art and Design, as part of the “I Serve Art” exhibit at the Richard and Dolly Maass Gallery, curated by Sara Reisman.

Figure 6
Figure 6

Black Lives Matter street sign installed outside the New Museum as part of IDEAS CITY 2015.

Photo credit: Christopher Robbins.

Citation: Transfers 6, 1; 10.3167/TRANS.2016.060111

Figure 7
Figure 7

Black Lives Matter street sign installed at SUNY Purchase College, summer 2015.

Photo credit: Christopher Robbins.

Citation: Transfers 6, 1; 10.3167/TRANS.2016.060111

The original signs were about revealing something in a social and legal blind spot. They emerged from conversations on the street about racial profiling and individuals’ interactions with local police. These most recent signs also emerged from conversations about what is missing from the debate around police abuse of power, racialized privilege, and a racist legal system. We asked participants to talk to each other and to question themselves about how they might be contributing to the propagation of an abusive system along a spectrum from inadvertent ignorance to willful complicity.

One very important thing about the signs is the private conversations that they provoke. This invisible groundswell of ideas is the stuff of change.

Figure 8
Figure 8

Black Lives Matter street sign installed in the Bowery as part of the New Museum IDEAS CITY 2015.

Photo credit: Christopher Robbins.

Citation: Transfers 6, 1; 10.3167/TRANS.2016.060111

Ghana ThinkTank was founded in 2006 by Christopher Robbins, John Ewing, and Matey Odonkor. Maria del Carmen Montoya joined in 2009. Ghana ThinkTank’s work has been featured in major international exhibitions such as the Venice Biennial of Architecture; the National Museum of Wales; Hong Kong/Shenzhen Biennale in Shenzhen, China; ZKM | Museum of Contemporary Art, Karlsruhe, Germany; New Museum Festival of Ideas; the Foundation for Art and Technology, Liverpool, UK; and Eyebeam Center, New York. The Ghana ThinkTank was awarded a Creative Capital Grant in 2013, and was an invited speaker at the 2014 Creative Time Summit.

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Contributor Notes

Christopher Robbins works on the uneasy cusp of public art and international development, creating sculptural interventions in the daily lives of strangers. He uses heavy material demands and a carefully twisted work process to craft awkwardly intimate social collaborations. Robbins has been awarded residencies and fellowships from Skowhegan, MacDowell Colony, Haystack, Penland, and Anderson Ranch. He is a professor at the School of Art and Design at SUNY Purchase College, and has an MFA with honors from the Rhode Island School of Design.

Maria del Carmen Montoya has lived and worked throughout Latin America. Her work has been shown at SIGGRAPH, PERFORMA, New Museum Festival of Ideas, ZKM, Museum of Contemporary Art, Venice Biennial of Architecture, and Visiones Sonoras in Morelia, Mexico, where she cofounded an artist residency for multimedia performance art. She has an MFA with honors from the Rhode Island School of Design.

John Ewing is a digital media artist specializing in participatory installations with an emphasis on social activism and cross-cultural exchange. His project Virtual Street Corners was chosen from over 2,300 international applicants for the Knight Foundation’s News Challenge Award and was cited by Americans for the Arts as one of the most significant public art projects of 2010. Ewing is currently a guest lecturer at Harvard University, has a BFA from Cornell University and an MFA with honors from the Rhode Island School of Design.

Transfers

Interdisciplinary Journal of Mobility Studies

  • View in gallery

    The Ghana ThinkTank trailer collecting problems in Corona, Queens in 2011.

    Photo credit: Christopher Robbins.

  • View in gallery

    The ThinkTank in Iran.

    Photo credit: Christopher Robbins.

  • View in gallery

    The ThinkTank of Sudanese Refugees incarcerated in an Israeli detention camp in the Negev Desert.

    Photo credit: Sohrab Kashani.

  • View in gallery

    Legal Waiting Zone Pilot in Corona, Queens, Summer 2011.

    Photo credit: Christopher Robbins.

  • View in gallery

    The language for the Legal Waiting Zone signs came from interviews with people who said they had been harassed by police using an unconstitutional loiter law.

    Photo credit: Christopher Robbins.

  • View in gallery

    Black Lives Matter street sign installed outside the New Museum as part of IDEAS CITY 2015.

    Photo credit: Christopher Robbins.

  • View in gallery

    Black Lives Matter street sign installed at SUNY Purchase College, summer 2015.

    Photo credit: Christopher Robbins.

  • View in gallery

    Black Lives Matter street sign installed in the Bowery as part of the New Museum IDEAS CITY 2015.

    Photo credit: Christopher Robbins.