The Sun Devil Stadium experience shows how once thriving black communities were destroyed
A new art exhibit at Arizona State University draws attention to three black communities that flourished a century ago and the mob violence that destroyed them.
“Banking While Black,” an interactive multimedia experience at the Coca-Cola Sun Deck at Sun Devil Stadium, opened March 15 and will run through April 17. It’s free and open to the public.
Artist Paul Rucker wants viewers to experience both the joy and horror of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s “Three Black Wall Streets”; Richmond, Virginia; and Durham, North Carolina.
“It’s about black excellence and black people thriving in these communities, and the aspect of their destruction, and the general aspect of people not experiencing prosperity. And that’s the story of why these thriving black communities aren’t here now,” Rucker said.
“It’s economic violence and coordinated exclusion.”
The installation recreates an actual bank, complete with artifacts such as a teller window and deposit tables, which Rucker purchased after an old bank was demolished in his hometown of Richmond.
“Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy, and banking and wealth in that city is tied to slavery,” he said.
“This bank is from the post-Jim Crow era, from the 1930s and 1940s. I went to the lifesaving society and saw the deposit table and thought, ‘I’m going to do a banking project with the deposit table. And they looked at me and said, ‘You know, we have the rest of the bank.’ ”
Much of Rucker’s work expresses the lingering effects of historical racism and the erasure of history. It has a collection of more than 20,000 historical artifacts, including postcards of lynchings and branding irons used to mark blacks as slaves.
“A lot of my work is not about black history, it’s about American history. Black history is American history,” he said.
“Black people are an integral part of building this country.”
Rucker was part of the ASU Art Museum’s recent exhibit “Undoing Time: Art and Histories of Incarceration,” in which his installation centered on Geronimo, the Apache leader and prisoner of war. Last summer, he exhibited at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, where his “Storm in the Time of Shelter” installation consisted of 48 mannequins dressed in Ku Klux Klan-style balaclavas and robes that Rucker created from kente fabric. African and other colorful patterns. .
Here, he answers a few questions about his latest installation:
Question: Last year you created an interactive website called “Three Black Wall Streets”. Was it the precursor of this project?
To respond: I wanted to do something to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre (which happened on May 31, 1921), where 34 city blocks were burned down and 6,000 black people were arrested. I met the ASU folks over two years ago. We were talking about this project, and then COVID came along and delayed everything.
I was a visiting professor at George Washington University and we decided we needed to have some sort of presence, so we created the website. It’s about why do we commemorate the destruction of a community versus how prosperous the community looked before the massacre?
We talk about why they existed and how they thrived and how beautiful it was to have these black ecosystems with stores of all types, not just hair salons and restaurants.
Q: What do you mean by economic violence?
A: These communities existed in all parts of the country, even in Phoenix. And they don’t exist now because of systemic politics and inequity and access to loans and land. These black communities were destroyed in many cases because they were in competition with white businesses and they were doing well.
Ida B. Wells was an anti-lynching activist because she had three friends who had opened a grocery store and she was in competition with a white grocery store. So the people at the white grocery store picked them up and lynched them. There were no accounts to render, no trial. Blacks were killed because they had successful businesses.
When you talk about “Banking While Black”, one of the experiences I had was taking a check from a bank and trying to cash it and being treated like a criminal. People are arrested for cashing checks. I wasn’t arrested, but I was treated like a criminal, like, “Is that a real check?”
Q: You bought the bank accessories used in “Banking While Black” years ago, and your TED talk is about your collection. Why do you collect historical artifacts?
A: I’ve been in the photo collection lately. I have hundreds of photos from the mid-1800s, tintype photos.
It’s about preserving the story and taking control of the narrative around a play. People look at an object and think of a story. But I think it’s important to have precise information about the origin of an object whose story is being told. Many of these artifacts deal with violence and American history. I want to preserve these artifacts to ensure that they will go into the hands of institutions that will not store them and never show them.
As an artist, I have the role of storyteller. Objects tell stories, and when you have documentation of incidents that happened over a hundred years ago, you can’t deny the facts. When I collect a coin, I think “Which other hands have touched this object?” “What suffering has taken place? Who benefited and who did not? »
I have purchased a building that will house my collection of artifacts and will be used for education and countering false narratives.