The “cage of society” expresses the oppressive weight of American racism

“Only a quarter of the rods reach the ground, reflecting the grim fact that one in four black Americans will be incarcerated in their lifetime,” reads the project description.

Belle notes that the walls of the room represent four of the most horrific manifestations of racism: death by lynching, death by police, capital punishment and mass incarceration.

There is an audio aspect to the piece; haunting, recorded sounds of chains, crying and pain. The duration of the audio is exactly 8:46 a.m., the time George Floyd fought for his life while pinned under the knee of former police officer Derek Chauvin.

Viewers are asked to hold their breath as they walk through the exhibit, a nod to Floyd’s utterance in his final moments when he couldn’t breathe. Participants are also encouraged to read the names and quotes written on the raised platform.

After the play arrived in town earlier this month, organizers staged a unveiling with designers and project leaders. Subsequently, the play became a fitting backdrop for protests against the overthrow of Roe v. Wade, as well as a de facto memorial for the victims of the May 14 mass shooting in a black Buffalo neighborhood.

“The piece was created in response to white supremacy,” says Belle, who helped bring the artwork to the Bay Area. “It was a tragic coincidence that Society’s Cage was on this site at the time.”

Belle says the play was made to force audiences to consider the pervasive presence of racism in this country. After all, some people might be able to look beyond racism. But it is difficult to not see a huge metal cage.

‘Society’s Cage’ is on display at Oakland City Hall through Sunday, May 29. That evening, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., a closing reception at the site includes project designersspeakers, former Black Panther Party members, musicians Kev Choice and Dame Drummer, Oscar Grant’s uncle Cephus Johnson, illustrator Emory Douglas, Oakland Poet Laureate Ayodele Nzinga, activist Cat Brooks, Destiny Muhammad and a host of artists organized by HipHopTV.

For more information, visit the ‘Society’s Cage’ website or its Instagram.

About Norman Griggs

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