Kai Lumumba Barrow
For over 35 years my work has been grounded in efforts to end structural oppression and State violence. My work intersects theories and practices that transgress the borders of the arts and organizing worlds. I am a co-founder of Critical Resistance, a national grassroots organization to end the prison industrial complex, and currently sit on the Community Advisory Board. I have also worked with national, regional, and local organizations to coordinate and design convenings, trainings, mass mobilizations, nonviolent direct actions, and guerrilla theatre. I have campaigned to stop jail expansion; confront police violence; reveal prosecutorial misconduct; bring visibility to women prisoners, political prisoners, and people confined to control units; interrupt gender discrimination and bias within prisons, policing, and sentencing; challenge the human rights abuses of prisoners, former prisoners and their family members, and experiment with decarceration models for shrinking the system.
As an artist, I am drawn to surrealism as a movement that, according to Robin D.G. Kelley, “invites dreaming, urges us to improvise and invent, and recognizes the imagination as our most powerful weapon.” In 2010, I formed Gallery of the Streets to “engage everyday spaces as sites of resistance.” An evolving national network of artists, activists, organizers, scholars, cultural workers, and community supporters, Gallery of the Streets exists at the intersections of art, political education, geography, history, direct action, and movement-building. Our signature program, visual opera, fuses public art and community engagement to confront power, provoke dialogue, and cultivate sustainable spaces. We identify points of intervention and create site-specific installations, and sound, movement, and visual compositions that are organized and performed in traditional and non-traditional public and private spaces. Using art as an invitation for dialogue, we believe that visual opera—both in its art-making processes as well as its productions—can shift our ideas and our practices in social movement organizing and community engagement.
Our work is driven by ideas expounded upon in theories of intersectionality, temporality, and art as social practice. In this sense, our projects are rooted in community collaboration, political education, and democratic processes. Using a Queer, Black Feminist framework, we produce artistic and organizing projects that rely upon discourse, group and individual accountability, improvisation, experimentation, and evaluation.