Can’t you see it? Can’t you feel it?
It’s all in the air
I can’t stand the pressure much longer
Somebody say a prayer”
– Nina Simone (lyrics from “Mississippi Goddam”, 1964)
Upon the first meeting of Nina Simone and Martin Luther King Jr., before proceeding to shake Dr. King’s outstretched hand Simone sternly told him “I’m not nonviolent.” Dr. King responded with warmth, “Oh, that’s OK, Sister. You don’t have to be”, and they shook hands.
Non Non Violence as an exhibition and statement comes not in direct response to any specific incident of violence towards people of color or queer individuals, perpetrated by the state or otherwise. Instead Non Non Violence acts as a larger response to how it feels to persist amidst an increasingly volatile and oppressive climate of hatred and mistrust – some of us of course persisting at much greater risk due to pigmentation, bodily inscription, economic standing, or otherwise. Non Non Violence can also be seen as a companion ideology to that of the Black Panthers’ “self defense by any means necessary” – not one of inciting nor desiring violence in any form, but that of realizing that if those intended to protect and serve aren’t fulfilling their duties and only creating greater terror within the community, the community must respond through solidarity in protecting its own. We believe that solidarity can take the form of artistic practice and gallery exhibition, as a means of reflecting, reinterpreting, and ultimately trying to heal. As Simone put it in “Mississippi Goddam”, her 1964 response to the murder of activist Medger Evers and the church bombing in Birmingham a year prior, “I can’t stand the pressure much longer / somebody say a prayer”. As artists, translators, and reinterpreters of the worlds around us, perhaps it is our duty to be the ones who say the prayer?