Kalan Sherrard on Dildo-Wielding Art Basel Protest: "Had We Been in Darker Bodies, We Would Probably Be Dead"

Kalan Sherrard
Kalan Sherrard

On Sunday, avant-garde NYC subway performer Kalan Sherrard and partner Maria Valenzuela were arrested after protesting inside Art Basel. Most of the media headlines centered on Sherrard's suspiciously large package. The 27-year-old had a dildo stuffed down his pants and when he removed it, Miami Beach police officers apparently mistook it for a gun, causing them to throw Sherrard to the ground.

Worried that the point of his protest had been lost amidst the penis jokes, Sherrard sent us a statement explaining why he took on the art fair.

"It is tragic to see one of the last tools of liberation and elevation appropriated by the very people who are standing on the throats of those they are keeping it from," he wrote. "Wealth is based on poverty, privilege on oppression, and we decry the colonial irony, privatization and commercialization of potentially transcendental forms and ideas by bourgeois elites."

See also: Two Performance Artists Arrested for Shouting "Fuck Art Basel" in Collector's Lounge

After we posted our story on Sunday night, several readers wryly commented out that had Sherrard been black or brown, he might have been killed by cops -- like Eric Garner in New York, Mike Brown in Missouri, and Israel Hernandez here in Miami -- instead of simply getting arrested for his art antics.

The point is not lost on Sherrard.

"I was arrested twice during Basel week for 'art crimes,' fittingly (although initially unawares) concurrent to remembrance marches for Israel Hernandez, the young latino graffiti artist who was tasered to death by police 16 months ago," Sherrard wrote. "The glaring facts of these events obviate the entrenchment of racist policy and privileging of white bodies by the police force -- that is to say, we have become aware that had we been in darker bodies, we would probably be dead."

See also: Teenager Israel Hernandez Dies After Miami Beach Cops Catch Him Tagging, Taser Him

Here is Sherrard's complete statement. Like his "Not-Happenings" and "Rhizomatic Encounters," it's a bit out there. But honestly, it makes more sense than most of the stuff we read on gallery wall placards this weekend.

To Whom It May Concern,

Our loose collective has for the past year been collaborating around a series of Not-Happenings and Rhizomatic Encounters on the New York City subways system, dogmatically aimed, available, and permeable to anyone who happens into their proximity, resistant to the enclosure of elite venues and closed spaces. As such, we were thrilled to unfold an opportunity to insert ourselves into such a starkly contrasting context from that with which we typically associate.

Yesterday two of us were arrested after effecting an intervention in the "Collectors Lounge" Dragon's Den of Art Basel's closing day.

We had been touring through a series of interventions in Miami's various fairs, each tailored to its specific tastes, all of which up until Sunday had gone off relatively seamlessly. When we approached Art Basel's gates in our everyday attire, we were told by three tiers of increasingly serpentine security officials that we were dressed "Too Artistically" and that the ingress of "Art" to Art Basel was prohibited - a curiously banal note as our work is so perpetually denounced on the street as "Not Art." We spent the next hour wandering around the outside of the fair asking visitors for their clothes.

After finally gathering a complete costume of Normal street clothes, we entered the fair and effected our short intervention in the Lounge, one of us articulating a very basic anti-Art-World rant while the the other simultaneously read aloud the text of the BMW guide to art collecting at Basel. The police report later detailed that our "protest" involved "30-40 demonstrators wearing mask[s]" - the two of us had apparently proliferated into exponential suggestion.

It is tragic to see one of the last tools of liberation and elevation appropriated by the very people who are standing on the throats of those they are keeping it from. Wealth is based on poverty, privilege on oppression, and we decry the colonial irony, privatization and commercialization of potentially transcendental forms and ideas by bourgeois elites.

As we exited the building, having been forbidden to pick up our checked bags by Basel security, police violently pounced on us from behind, supposedly having mistaken a prosthetic packing penis for a handgun. having wrestled us to the ground, bruised and battered us with their bodies and a barrage of sexually invasive questions, they then placed us in tiny adjacent cells in a prisoner transport van for the next five hours that became like a sauna. We sang. By six in the morning, after eight more hours of extremely productive learning within the state's racist incarceratory complex (where it would behoove all white-skinned bodies to spend some time), our families and friends had come together to bail us out of the Dade County Jail.

I was arrested twice during Basel week for "art crimes", fittingly (although initially unawares) concurrent to remembrance marches for Israel Hernandez, the young latino graffiti artist who was tasered to death by police 16 months ago. The glaring facts of these events obviate the entrenchment of racist policy and privileging of white bodies by the police force - that is to say, we have become aware that had we been in darker bodies, we would probably be dead.

Over the next week we will be holding a series of Free School classes and events concurrent to the art show at Space Mountain Gallery, 8363 NE 2nd Ave in Little Haiti, and are happy to invite submissions for learning and teaching. Please contact us at nomadrhizomeresidency@gmail.com

Regards,

The GroupSelf Collective

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