Wiley trickster and conceptual artist David Hammons has been zinging us for a number of years with his exceptionally brilliant conceptual art, which among other things, touches on race, class and identity in America. Now pushing 70, this enigmatic African-American artist once sold snowballs in a snowstorm in NYC in 1983, and depicted Jessie Jackson as a blond haired-blue eyed ideal for the National Portrait Gallery in a piece titled “How You Like Me Now.” Hammons came to mind recently specifically for his installation “In The Hood,” above, because it relates to the killing of 17-year-old, 140-lb Trayvon Martin by 23-year-old, 250-lb George Zimmerman last month. Geraldo Rivera’s nonsensical take on the matter needs to be G-checked as well.
“In The Hood” was made in 1993, two years before Trayvon Martin was born. Before Hammons made this piece, the Champion-made hoodie had been in America for about 60 years, worn by blue collar folks as a garment to keep warm. When Trayvon was at the tender age of 7, the hoodie was shown in 2002 exhibit at The Bronx Museum of Art’s “One Planet Under A Groove” show. By that point, hip-hop had embraced the hoodie as a fashion staple, thanks to designers like Tommy Hilfiger who quadrupled retail sales of this garment to heads enamored with the designer. Prior to that, the hoodie was popularized by Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky (1979), released around the same time hip-hop was being born in The Bronx.
Nearly 2000 years ago, during the High and Low Middle Ages, the hoodie was worn by religious fanatics in Northern Europe as a cowl. Filmmaker and xenophobe D.W. Griffith championed the hood in his polarizing film The Birth Of A Nation (1915) credited with reviving the KKK. The hood is deep and rich with history: its wearers are perceived as both menace and mystery.
For Geraldo Rivera the former is the rule: that those who wear the hoodie, by sheer perception alone, are gangsters, dangerous, menacing and should be killed. What Rivera, a former activist turned puppet for Fox News, fails to realize, is that prior to slavery and Reconstruction, the black male and female’s relationship to hood was one of terror. Black bodies have been terrorized by white men wearing hoods and bearing torches for centuries. These persons were cut down by centuries of bullets and ropes by cops, KKK members, good ‘ole boys, teenagers looking for fun, and Americans indoctrinated with the belief that by virtue of having dark skin, the black body, clothed or unclothed, is to be eradicated or subjugated at all costs. Rivera’s beliefs are interpreted on Lenin0logy as, “the murder victim is partly to blame for his death, because this symbolic action, wearing a hoodie, identifies one as someone who should be killed.”
Trayvon, according to Rivera, broke protocol. Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd, Michael Stewart, Eleanor Bumpers, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, DJ Henry and thousands of black Americans who have been wiped out because they were perceived as a threat or dangerous in places where they were perceived as not belonging or in their homes. Hammons’ “Hood” speaks on this explicitly. Its head is separated from its body. It talks about the machinations and projections of identity given to us by others and the perceived behavior based on those fears/expectations after indoctrination. It discusses class as it demarcates the economic status of the wearer (in the hood/from the hood) and white supremacy that longs to keep the wearer there. Juxtapose where Trayvon was killed, walking in a gated community, looking at houses that, according to Zimmerman, he should not have been looking at, with notions of class and you have Hammons’ “Hood.”
Hooded or not, Trayvon, as a black body, was feared and perceived as a threat and cut down for being in someone else’s hood. A convoluted racial perception, reinforced by centuries of hate, ridiculous gun laws and an unstable individual whose parents worked for the law (privilege), murdered Trayvon Martin, not a hoodie.
Hammons’ hood is cut off, uninhabited, headless; it simultaneously has/does not have a point of view… but ghosts live there nonetheless. And they will continue to live there as long as there are black people alive in or out of the hood.