Designed as an “interpretive pavilion sculpted to symbolize the historic forces of racialized state violence,” the art installation “Society’s Cage” opens Monday at Baltimore’s War Memorial Plaza.
The “outdoor museum” was created by a team of Black architects in the aftermath of the police-involved deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. An opening ceremony by the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts is planned for 2:30 p.m. Monday, although capacity is limited due to the coronavirus pandemic. Social distancing and masks are required.
The traveling exhibit will be open to the public daily 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. through Oct. 30 at the plaza, 101 N. Gay St.
SmithGroup architects Dayton Schroeter and Julian Arrington were the lead designers.
Schroeter, of Washington, D.C., said their mission is to educate and build empathy by taking “something as ugly as racism and white supremacy” and creating a “beautiful experience” that encourages reflection and conversation.
The installation is an open-air pavilion, fully accessible, with 500 rusted steel bars. A cube that measures 15 feet by 15 feet by 15 feet, the edifice takes the shape of racism, Schroeter said, explaining that the dimensions are drawn on data from four components of state violence against Black Americans: lynchings, mass incarceration, capital punishment and police killings.
“It is a mathematical expression of statistical, historical data that describes how African Americans have been impacted by racialized state violence throughout the history of America,” he said. “When the visitor enters the pavilion, they are standing under the weight of racism.”
Visitors will see orientation panels that offer data. Once inside, people are encouraged to hold their breath to see how close they can get to the 8 minutes, 46 seconds that a police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck. Schroeter said visitors are asked to record a short message to share with friends and family that includes how long they went without breathing and offers reflections on the entire experience. Messages can be shared on social media using #SocietysCage.
SmithGroup, the lead sponsor for installation, is joining The Architects Foundation to raise money for its Diversity Advancement scholarship. Schroeter said the scholarship will benefit students historically underrepresented in the field of architecture. Donations also support the installation itself, and the ability for it to travel.
Its arrival in the city is part of Free Fall Baltimore, a collection of arts and cultural events presented by Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and the Maryland State Arts Council. Support also comes from the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
Held each October, Fall Baltimore will be offered this year as a hybrid of virtual and small in-person events. More information is available at freefallbaltimore.org.
Baltimore is the second stop on a national tour for “Society’s Cage,” which opened on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in late August. The location of the next stop has not been finalized.