Downtown Brooklyn art installation, ‘Witnessing,’ uses old tech to honor modern-day victims of police brutality

Brooklynites view public art installation in Downtown Brooklyn
“Witnessing,” a new art installation at the Plaza at 300 Ashland, uses old-school police call boxes to bring attention to the stories of modern-day victims of police violence.
Photo courtesy of Downtown Brooklyn Partnership

A new Downtown Brooklyn art installation, “Witnessing uses antiquated emergency call boxes to honor victims of modern-day police brutality. Six seven-f00t-tall call boxes, outfitted with screens, and placed around the Plaza at 300 Ashland, broadcast video testimonies from victims and survivors of police violence.

The exhibit was originally created by Bradley McCallum over 20 years ago in collaboration with Jacqueline Tarry in response to the citywide protests following the police abuse of Abner Louima in 1997 and Amadou Diallo in 1999. The artist decided to revisit the project to reiterate the ongoing fight to end racism, violence, and the abuse of power within the criminal justice system. 

people look at police box art installation
“Witnessing” was first created 20 years ago in response to citywide protests against police brutality. Now, McCallum said, he hopes the piece can understand the piece as “a monument to our shared humanity.” Photo courtesy Downtown Brooklyn Partnership

“’Witnessing’ engages with the lived experiences of suffering and how people are affected by abuses of power daily,” said McCallum. “I hope the public climate has shifted enough for people — especially the authorities, politicians, and policymakers — to understand ‘Witnessing’ as a monument to our shared humanity. As the father of a mixed-race son who is now 19 years old, I appreciate first-hand the fear that comes with systemic racism and the challenges we face in policing our democracy.” 

After receiving funding from the state’ Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) to display more public art and revitalize neighborhoods, the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and Dumbo Art Fund, who partnered to present bring “Witnessing” to the Plaza, wanted to present projects that were timely and engaging, said DBP president Regina Myer. 

“Building on the mission of the Downtown Brooklyn + Dumbo Art Fund, ‘Witnessing’ will not only activate our shared spaces but also offer our community a place to connect, reflect, and interact,” Myer said in a  statement. “We’re proud to showcase ‘Witnessing’ in the heart of Downtown Brooklyn’s thriving cultural district and look forward to seeing residents, visitors, workers and students engage with this important piece of public art.”  

“Witnessing” specifically shares the intimate stories of eight New Yorkers: Anthony Baez, Nicholas Heward Jr., Anthony Rosario, Hilton Vega, Yong Xin Huang, Anibal Calderon, Frankie Arzuaga and Nathanial Levi Gaines, through exclusive interviews with their family members, police officers and social justice activists. 

police violence art installation
The installation will be on display through January 2023, and is one of several “timely and engaging” exhibitions the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and Dumbo Art Fund have opened in Brooklyn this year. Photo courtesy Downtown Brooklyn Partnership

Earlier this year, the Downtown Brooklyn + Dumbo Art Fund opened “Mind Forged Manacles/Manacle Forged Minds,” a ten-foot sculpture touching on themes of incarceration and dividing communities. That installation was also funded by the DRI. 

The installation opened to the public on Sept. 30 and will be on display until January of 2023 with the help of many community partners like the DUMBO Improvement District, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the National Action Network.

“This is an important work — it will be encountered by the community in a way that only public art can achieve,” said Alexandria Sica, president of DUMBO Improvement District. “We are so proud to be presenting it through the Downtown Brooklyn + Dumbo Art Fund.”