Society’s Cage - Experiential Installation
Society’s Cage is a bold interpretive installation that challenges visitors to reckon with America's long history of racial injustice and white supremacy. With a design rooted in statistical facts, it is at once unsettling and uplifting, a place to raise awareness, build empathy, and provide sanctuary for contemplation and healing.
Touring Cities Across the Country
Architecture, Cultural, Cultural Landscapes, Lighting Design, Museums & Galleries, Performing Arts, Visitor & Interpretive Centers
Honor Award in Small Projects Category, National Organization of Minority Architects, 2020
In the aftermath of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, a team of Black architects at SmithGroup sought to contextualize these most recent acts of racialized violence in a more than 400-year continuum, contributing to the conversation of racial injustice and using architecture to reflect the issues of racial and social justice. A public installation, in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, would elevate stories ripe for collective acknowledgement and reconciliation as a basis for educating the public and building empathy.
These recent murders, and countless others, are not anomalies, but rather the then-most-current examples of a continuing history of unmitigated, anti-Black state violence in the United States. The emergence of smartphone technology and social media and have made it possible to broadcast episodes of racialized state violence at large, forcing many to see first-hand accounts of unwarranted racialized violence and acknowledge the ugliness of institutional racism.
The parti of the pavilion is an imperfect cube that symbolizes unrendered justice for Black Americans whereby the history of anti-Black state violence erodes the purity of the cube form to create a cavernous void. Only a quarter of the rods reach to the ground, reflecting the grim fact that one in four Black Americans will be incarcerated in his or her lifetime. Each facade of the cube embodies a graphic representation of a historic data graph that describe how Black Americans have been impacted by the primary institutional forces of state violence (mass incarceration, civilian killings by police, capital punishment and lynching).
The four data sets on each facade are mathematically averaged and physically triangulated to form the undulating roof surface of the void. Within the space created by this data, visitors experience the symbolic weight of oppression form the bars hanging around and above them. Interpretive content, including an explanation of the data and narratives illustrating these four primary institutions of racialized state violence, is inscribed around the pavilion's perimeter. QR codes direct visitors to additional details about the data, as well as links to other educational resources.
While in the pavilion, visitors are encouraged to participate in a universal emotive experience by holding their breath—a reminder of the brutal death of George Floyd and many other victims of police terrorism—and reflect on the exercise on social media, continuing to build empathy, spread awareness and spark discussion. Quotes from Black luminaries, historic and contemporary, trace a path for visitors through a field of ten thousand names of victims of racialized state violence inside the installation.
Every aspect of the installation is calibrated to evoke an emotional response, encouraging contemplation and acknowledgement of the ugly and violent history of our nation. The installation is designed to travel to a variety of locations across the country—bringing its experience to many and continuing the all-important conversation of reckoning with our nation’s past so that we may strive toward a more equitable future.