Art Installation Kicked Out Of New York Finds Home in Duke City
In resistance of the normalization of division in American society, He Will Not Divide Us, the recently popularized participatory performance artwork by Shia LaBeouf, Nastja Säde Rönkkö and Luke Turner, was installed in downtown Albuquerque – just a week after it was shut down in New York City.
The artwork consists of a surveillance-style camera situated beneath the capitalized words ‘he will not divide us,” and any person can deliver the mantra into the camera in any manner the like for as long as they will. The camera is linked to a 24-hour live stream on the project’s website
The project is set to last the duration of the 45th Presidency, artists say.
Previously located on a wall outside the Museum of the Moving Image in New York, He Will Not Divide Us commenced on Inauguration day last month and continued until the previous host “abandoned the project,” prompting the artists to relocate to a wall outside of the El Rey Theatre.
Perhaps the most famed member of LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner, artist Shia LaBeouf said all are welcomed to participate with the artwork, regardless of identity, orientation, category or affiliation.
“We’re not trying to exclude anybody,” he said. “Only get aggressive with people who are tyrants or racists.”
Some say the high-profile artwork and artists have provided Albuquerque a unique platform
El Rey Theatre owner Stephen Segura said he was a fan of the project from its inception and was “absolutely” willing to contribute when approached about the possibility of hosting the installation.
“Let’s be on the right side of history,” Segura said. “(the installation) got shut down, that was wrong.
Following a week featuring the presidential condemnation of most American journalism, he said it’s important for people to consider the significance of the first amendment, even with respect to art.
“We need to live in order to be able to voice any kind of creativity and art, and not allow it to be shut down like that.” Segura said.
LaBeouf and Segura first crossed paths when LaBeouf caught a show at the El Rey while filming in the area a few years ago.
Max Baptiste is a mutual friend who maintained contact with Labeouf and served as something of a go-between in bringing the project to town.
“Albuquerque has a very interesting reputation nationally,” Baptiste said. “We can utilize this to show the creative capital we have in this place, and we can show it unbiasedly; we don’t have to go through record labels or galleries, and we can show Albuquerque is not Breaking Bad, it’s a beautiful place.”
The “He” in the installation is a metaphor, Baptiste offered. “‘He’ is a metaphor for anybody, anything that separates us.”
LaBeouf said the artists have made contact with city hall regarding the project.
“It’s pretty cool,” said City Councilor Pat Davis. “New York City couldn’t handle this, (the artists) looked for a place that was welcoming for people and Albuquerque was on that list… it shows that our culture and arts community is on the map.”
He Will Not Divide Us provides participants with an opportunity to express their emotions and begin addressing their anxieties, he said.
“This is a way for people to show unity,” Davis said.
Local activist and poet Shakir Abdullah said the recent activity of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the state makes for interesting timing in the arrival of He Will Not Divide Us.
“Albuqueruque is actually symbolic of this revolutionary movement,” he said.
The project may give some communities a voice they didn’t have before, on social media for example, Abdullah said.
“This city is built on a (white male dominated) system, but it’s old. It’s old because this city is beautiful and it’s multicultural and diverse, it has communities within communities,” he said. “It’s by any means necessary, even if that’s doing this right here, or reporting on ICE, going to a protest.”
Abdullah noted his concern with the surveillance camera element of the installation. That key members of important movements in the city will be documented in video potentially accessible to government agencies gives him some pause, but won’t deter his participation.
“I’ll probably be here every morning, 3 o’clock in the morning saying something,” he said. “What greater thing than an injustice against humanity to bring everybody together?” Abdullah asked. “We have to define what unites us.