I named this piece “Entanglement” as an ode to some of the most memorable contributions to the COVID lexicon as well as an attempt to capture the complexity of today’s world. This assemblage of moments encourages us to stop and consider the significance and implications of these lived experiences in all of their involvedness. From the tremendous grief stemming from the tragic loss of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and the seven other passengers on the helicopter to the raucous laughter brought on by the responses to the interesting use of the term “entanglement,” by Jada Pinkett Smith, this mural is a continuum of human experience. While the piece does not pass a wholesale judgment on any one issue, it does inspire change by structuring seemingly disparate issues alongside one another to indicate some form of inherent connection that we must tease out. The journey that Entanglement depicts is not spearheaded by any map key to dictate how we should approach each of the moments captured, which is a distinctive characteristic of 2020 regarding the logic of solitary leadership.
This year has emphasized just how much we have to consider our co-existence while offering up numerous critiques of a practice of leadership over any collective of people. Black Lives Matter in particular presents itself as a leaderless movement as a way to signal lessons learned from past Black social movements that privileged Black male charisma. Its collective organizational structure is a stand-in for singular leadership as well as a tactic to demonstrate the unique dimensions of this millennium wherein we understand that things we consider foundational—like the presumption of a single leader—can and should be questioned.
The global pandemic created this moment of calm that preempted a storm by allowing us to acknowledge just how bound our fates are to one another as well as how we co-create political realities that do not benefit the majority. The demand that the cogs in the wheels of capitalism pause for a bit offered us a moment of clarity that made us witnesses to the widespread inaccessibility to personal protective equipment to fight the virus, the attempted euphemistic paintings of low-wage service workers as heroes, and the way pretty words manipulate our realities. The pandemic made it abundantly clear to us that we live underneath a structure that does not value human life equally, which implies that at any moment, we could be disposed of as workers whose labor is replaceable and deemed obsolete.
Our current circumstance isn’t unlike typical western history of simultaneity where unfathomable lows—like ICE holding kids in cages during a pandemic—and fleeting joys—such as the unity demonstrated in marches on racial injustice and police brutality—co-exist while constituting moments of change. While some of us have characterized 2020 as a void year because of how it has confronted our notions of control and time, I’ve embraced the chaos to capture the year’s zeitgeist and present it as intricate ties that reflect our complicated lives. The multiple images appear dissimilar as a way of questioning how so much of how we live is connected to our understanding of each other, specifically how our lives are co-dependent upon each other. The genre defiance reflected by the sheer range of images gets at the shaky ground of our barriers while bordering on a sensorium overload to mimic how overwhelming life is in the midst of hard changes. Finally, the choice of black and white images—whether joyful or painful—is a refusal of the common and often uncritical demand for optimism. Colors are powerful with multiple effects, one of which being capturing our attention and offering signals to our emotions as a way of guiding them—I wanted to disengage any such impulse as a way of encouraging us to sit with our roles in creating the world we live in.
Entanglement is an artwork, sponsored in part by the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and Conrad Benner from StreetsDept.com.
It’s currently on view outside of PIZZA Shackamaxon at Girard and Shackamaxon in the Fishtown Area of Philadelphia.