Cultural Architect Series: Nicholas Mirzoeff

Photograph by Savanna Sorensen/BYU Photo

Nicholas Mirzoeff is a visual activist, working at the intersection of politics, race and global/visual culture. October 22nd, Tube Factory artspace will host a free talk and dinner with Mirzoeff. He will present about his work and new project, The Appearance of Black Lives Matter, a limited edition print book with Indianapolis-based artists Carl Pope and Karen Pope. The book is also available as a free download.

Among his many publications, The Right to Look: A Counterhistory of Visuality (2011) won the Anne Friedberg Award for Innovative Scholarship from the Society of Cinema and Media Studies in 2013.

How To See The World was published by Pelican in the UK (2015) and by Basic Books in the US (2016). It has been translated into ten languages and was a New Scientist Top Ten Book of the Year for 2015.

Since Charlottesville, he has been active in the movement to take down statues commemorating settler colonialism and/or white supremacy and convened the collaborative syllabus “All The Monuments Must Fall.”

A frequent blogger and writer, his work has appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, Time and The New Republic.

Shauta Marsh: Why do you believe the Popes were the right artists for the book?
Nicholas Mirzoeff: The goal for this book was to create a dialogue between writing and visual media. Black Lives Matter is a social media project that became a social movement because of Ferguson. So when I was thinking about people to work with, it made sense to think about artists that understand the power of words and the impact of visual media. Carl has been a pioneer in art activism around the issue of police brutality, while Karen understood how poetry was vital to the movement in general and to this book in particular.

SM: What do you hope will be the response of the readers?
NM: The book is so many things now. You can read the text, look at the images, read Carl’s intertexts to my chapters, engage with Karen’s poem and then plunge into “The Bad Air Smelled Of Roses,” which is art, writing, citation and protest all at once. Everyone has had a say about everything so it’s a truly collaborative project. That means that I hope people will engage with it as they want and continue the dialogue, whether with us, their friends and family, or within social movements. Once a book is in the world, it belongs to its readers. And I hope they will see it as an invitation to make their own projects because we have a great deal of work to do.

SM: What led to the writing of the book for you personally?
NM: I watched Ferguson happen online. I went to the first Black Lives Matter actions in New York City and so many marches, die ins, protests and more. Here I was always a follower, listening and learning. When then-prosector Robert McCulloch smirkingly announced “no true bill” against Darren Wilson for murdering Michael Brown, he released into the public domain all 40,000 pages of grand jury transcripts, with media clips and many photographs. I took this as a challenge to get involved. In five days, I read the transcripts and produced an online account called “One Minute of White Supremacy: The Murder of Michael Brown” for Tidal, an online magazine that came out of Occupy Wall Street. It had 100,000 views on the first day and from there I was often asked to speak about the issues, as the killings continued. It’s been transformative for me, a person who grew up in England as an identifiable minority but gained honorory (and unasked for) white status when I moved here. I’ve learned so much from Black Lives Matter and I wanted to give something back, which is why there’s a free e-book of the text and the beautiful hardcover is just $15. None of the participants are taking money from the book sales.

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