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Patrisse Cullors' "Stained": A Review - The Feminist Wire

Patrisse Cullors' "Stained": A Review

By Kima Jones

Patrisse Cullors, a multi-faceted performance artist, shared her installation piece, “Stained,” Saturday night at Highways Performance Space and Gallery in Santa Monica, California. “Stained” is described by the artist as a “way Blackness is on the one hand exploited, imprisoned and stretched.” Executive Director of Highways, Leo Garcia, introduced the audience to the space while marveling at the crowd of nearly 100 folk who came out to Art Night specifically for the performance.

“Stained” is a triptych of interactive performances fueled by both the incarceration and battering of Cullors’ brother, Monte Cullors, while he was in the custody of the Los Angeles County Jail and the ACLU’s federal class action lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff for condoning inmate violence.

Cullors, wearing body hugging ripped jeans and white high top sneakers, encouraged the audience to crowd around the caution tape that served to block in the three performers: Maxwell Addae, Jas Wade, and Three Tres Olivas-Breazell. The audience left their seats to crowd around the caution tape and the space went silent except for a recording of Cullors reading prison correspondence and documentation, collected by her mother, detailing the mental and physical abuses Monte suffered as an inmate.

Cullors successfully used the audience to corroborate the crimes against the prisoners. At once, the crowd became witness and defendant, performing aspects of the of the criminal justice system: police, jury, and corrections officers. Using Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon, Cullors allowed the crowd to become the watchers–an unfair indictment that left many audience members tearful.

The audience was allowed to judge, dismiss, punish, and criticize the performers as they played the role of prisoners, uniformly costumed in white tee-shirts, gray sweatpants, and brown sneakers. Each performer coped differently as they performed as the imprisoned and  exhibit. Addae exercised while Olivas-Breazell tried to escape, reached for salvation, springing into the air at undetermined intervals. The break out performance, the most unnerving, was Wade’s hysterical laughter turned crying turned laughter, which was impossible to decipher at any given time. The performers then returned to the monotony of prison life, in this case, pasting, billboard style, the ACLU’s federal class action lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to the wall using wheat paste.

“Stained” is an interactive 20-minute performance piece that begs us to ponder multiple theories of imprisonment. What does the imprisoned body do? The imprisoned mind? Performer Maxwell Addae commented, “The act of doing the pushups was a sense of grounding when I searched for a place of peace and sanity.” At “Stained” there is no peace and sanity. Cullors’ voice is a monotone reading, a deluge of brutality: “strapped to a chair,” “psychotropic meds,” “blood came out of eyes, nose and wrists.” The performers are screaming out, exercising, jumping against madness. The audience watches just behind the caution tape gasping, pointing, crying, silenced now that they are part of the crime, part of the system. Behind the standing audience, the empty seats of the gallery space become the final watcher. The empty seats, the heavy black theater curtains, encircle the entire performance locking everyone in, creating a space where the watcher cannot be differentiated from the watched.

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Author bio: Kima Jones writes poetry, fiction, history and geography. Kima is a Voices at VONA alum and 2012 LAMBDA fellow in poetry. Kima can be found online at www.kimajones.com.

20 Comments

  1. Mark-Anthony

    July 25, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    This is a great review! It’s true, that at Stained “there is no peace or sanity.” The performance provided me with no comfortable place to watch, bear witness, or “corroborate” the crimes being committed against inmates in local Los Angeles jails, and beyond. You name it clearly, the “watcher cannot be differentiated from the watched” and that caution tape was no reliable boundary. For me, this reveals the point of the piece: to literally stain the audience so that we could not leave the performance still able to wash our hands clean of the abuse our incarcerated brothers and sisters experience. Still, the piece was done in such a way that I felt a sense of direction and care for my capacity to challenge these abuses. Thank you for reviewing this piece! It is powerful and needs exposure as the ACLU continues to push their lawsuit forward.

  2. Mark-Anthony

    July 25, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    This is a great review! It’s true, that at Stained “there is no peace or sanity.” The performance provided me with no comfortable place to watch, bear witness, or “corroborate” the crimes being committed against inmates in local Los Angeles jails, and beyond. You name it clearly, the “watcher cannot be differentiated from the watched” and that caution tape was no reliable boundary. For me, this reveals the point of the piece: to literally stain the audience so that we could not leave the performance still able to wash our hands clean of the abuse our incarcerated brothers and sisters experience. Still, the piece was done in such a way that I felt a sense of direction and care for my capacity to challenge these abuses. Thank you for reviewing this piece! It is powerful and needs exposure as the ACLU continues to push their lawsuit forward.

  3. Mark-Anthony

    July 25, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    This is a great review! It’s true, that at Stained “there is no peace or sanity.” The performance provided me with no comfortable place to watch, bear witness, or “corroborate” the crimes being committed against inmates in local Los Angeles jails, and beyond. You name it clearly, the “watcher cannot be differentiated from the watched” and that caution tape was no reliable boundary. For me, this reveals the point of the piece: to literally stain the audience so that we could not leave the performance still able to wash our hands clean of the abuse our incarcerated brothers and sisters experience. Still, the piece was done in such a way that I felt a sense of direction and care for my capacity to challenge these abuses. Thank you for reviewing this piece! It is powerful and needs exposure as the ACLU continues to push their lawsuit forward.

  4. Mark-Anthony

    July 25, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    This is a great review! It’s true, that at Stained “there is no peace or sanity.” The performance provided me with no comfortable place to watch, bear witness, or “corroborate” the crimes being committed against inmates in local Los Angeles jails, and beyond. You name it clearly, the “watcher cannot be differentiated from the watched” and that caution tape was no reliable boundary. For me, this reveals the point of the piece: to literally stain the audience so that we could not leave the performance still able to wash our hands clean of the abuse our incarcerated brothers and sisters experience. Still, the piece was done in such a way that I felt a sense of direction and care for my capacity to challenge these abuses. Thank you for reviewing this piece! It is powerful and needs exposure as the ACLU continues to push their lawsuit forward.

  5. Rey Fukuda

    July 26, 2012 at 12:36 am

    Kima Jones’ review did this powerful piece justice. I was both moved from anger and sadness and stuck from shock and was reminded of our somatic responses to trauma during this performance of “Stained”. The piece itself “displays” how black bodies are scrutinized and dehumanized in prison, while also showing the importance of coping/surviving and ultimately showing the resilience of those imprisoned. For anyone who hasn’t seen the show, I hope you do and hope to keep reading Kima’s reviews on other Theater of the Oppressed driven pieces.

  6. Rey Fukuda

    July 26, 2012 at 12:36 am

    Kima Jones’ review did this powerful piece justice. I was both moved from anger and sadness and stuck from shock and was reminded of our somatic responses to trauma during this performance of “Stained”. The piece itself “displays” how black bodies are scrutinized and dehumanized in prison, while also showing the importance of coping/surviving and ultimately showing the resilience of those imprisoned. For anyone who hasn’t seen the show, I hope you do and hope to keep reading Kima’s reviews on other Theater of the Oppressed driven pieces.

  7. Rey Fukuda

    July 26, 2012 at 12:36 am

    Kima Jones’ review did this powerful piece justice. I was both moved from anger and sadness and stuck from shock and was reminded of our somatic responses to trauma during this performance of “Stained”. The piece itself “displays” how black bodies are scrutinized and dehumanized in prison, while also showing the importance of coping/surviving and ultimately showing the resilience of those imprisoned. For anyone who hasn’t seen the show, I hope you do and hope to keep reading Kima’s reviews on other Theater of the Oppressed driven pieces.

  8. Rey Fukuda

    July 26, 2012 at 12:36 am

    Kima Jones’ review did this powerful piece justice. I was both moved from anger and sadness and stuck from shock and was reminded of our somatic responses to trauma during this performance of “Stained”. The piece itself “displays” how black bodies are scrutinized and dehumanized in prison, while also showing the importance of coping/surviving and ultimately showing the resilience of those imprisoned. For anyone who hasn’t seen the show, I hope you do and hope to keep reading Kima’s reviews on other Theater of the Oppressed driven pieces.

  9. Haewon

    July 26, 2012 at 7:38 am

    What an insightful review. I was able to catch “Stained” this past weekend and it was a chilling and brilliant performance. With the history of this country, many have normalized the violence and abusive crimes against black and brown people. “Stained” pushed the audience to watch/feel/examine/question the current prison and police state we are living in today… An issue that is easier for many to turn their backs on. As I watched, I was forced to feel. I felt everything from rage to sadness to helplessness to guilt and even hope. “Stained” allows you to validate everything that comes up for you because what is important is that your feelings are coming from witnessing something that was never meant to be exposed. From the powerful performance artists to ACLU’s documentation, “Stained” is sharing the stories of those whose voices have been silenced. It is an important piece of work and I hope that it continues to be shown across the nation so we can continue to expose the Prison Industrial Complex for what it is because it is the civil rights fight of our generation.

  10. Haewon

    July 26, 2012 at 7:38 am

    What an insightful review. I was able to catch “Stained” this past weekend and it was a chilling and brilliant performance. With the history of this country, many have normalized the violence and abusive crimes against black and brown people. “Stained” pushed the audience to watch/feel/examine/question the current prison and police state we are living in today… An issue that is easier for many to turn their backs on. As I watched, I was forced to feel. I felt everything from rage to sadness to helplessness to guilt and even hope. “Stained” allows you to validate everything that comes up for you because what is important is that your feelings are coming from witnessing something that was never meant to be exposed. From the powerful performance artists to ACLU’s documentation, “Stained” is sharing the stories of those whose voices have been silenced. It is an important piece of work and I hope that it continues to be shown across the nation so we can continue to expose the Prison Industrial Complex for what it is because it is the civil rights fight of our generation.

  11. Haewon

    July 26, 2012 at 7:38 am

    What an insightful review. I was able to catch “Stained” this past weekend and it was a chilling and brilliant performance. With the history of this country, many have normalized the violence and abusive crimes against black and brown people. “Stained” pushed the audience to watch/feel/examine/question the current prison and police state we are living in today… An issue that is easier for many to turn their backs on. As I watched, I was forced to feel. I felt everything from rage to sadness to helplessness to guilt and even hope. “Stained” allows you to validate everything that comes up for you because what is important is that your feelings are coming from witnessing something that was never meant to be exposed. From the powerful performance artists to ACLU’s documentation, “Stained” is sharing the stories of those whose voices have been silenced. It is an important piece of work and I hope that it continues to be shown across the nation so we can continue to expose the Prison Industrial Complex for what it is because it is the civil rights fight of our generation.

  12. Haewon

    July 26, 2012 at 7:38 am

    What an insightful review. I was able to catch “Stained” this past weekend and it was a chilling and brilliant performance. With the history of this country, many have normalized the violence and abusive crimes against black and brown people. “Stained” pushed the audience to watch/feel/examine/question the current prison and police state we are living in today… An issue that is easier for many to turn their backs on. As I watched, I was forced to feel. I felt everything from rage to sadness to helplessness to guilt and even hope. “Stained” allows you to validate everything that comes up for you because what is important is that your feelings are coming from witnessing something that was never meant to be exposed. From the powerful performance artists to ACLU’s documentation, “Stained” is sharing the stories of those whose voices have been silenced. It is an important piece of work and I hope that it continues to be shown across the nation so we can continue to expose the Prison Industrial Complex for what it is because it is the civil rights fight of our generation.

  13. Damon Turner

    July 28, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    “The empty seats, the heavy black theater curtains, encircle the entire performance locking everyone in, creating a space where the watcher cannot be differentiated from the watched.” -Kima Jones

    I totally loved this review! I am also grateful for being able to see this piece live. It was both brutal and beautiful wrapped in one.

    The brutal :: Being apart of this American system my entire life, and having been raised a black man in the Jim Crow south, i know all too well how the law enforcement industry can produce negative seeds in the lives of those directly effected.

    Having such a close relationship with the prison system (through family members/friends being locked up), i wanted to do my best to try and detach myself from the emotion of the piece. I wanted to enjoy the beauty that was in the presentation of art that Patrisse curated.

    The beauty :: Having only seen predominately white faces do live art instillation, this was a very refreshing first for me. Seeing an all black cast of artists presenting something like this, LOVED IT! The symmetry was crazy! The level of detail that had to go into making sure the message was seamless must be applauded. Also, the selection of artist to collaborate with to make sure the message stayed pure was radical. The amount of trust that went into each person opening up and sharing that emotion throughout the set also visible!

    Again, i am truly blessed to have bore witness to this phenomenal presentation of such a grimacing conversation. The Prison Industrial Complex is REAL! And it will not be until more artist are creating controversial pieces like such, that the conversation can be taken from just the inner cities circles into the Santa Monica and Beverly Hills of the world.

    Much Appreciation Patrisse! Cannot wait to see you on tour!

  14. Damon Turner

    July 28, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    “The empty seats, the heavy black theater curtains, encircle the entire performance locking everyone in, creating a space where the watcher cannot be differentiated from the watched.” -Kima Jones

    I totally loved this review! I am also grateful for being able to see this piece live. It was both brutal and beautiful wrapped in one.

    The brutal :: Being apart of this American system my entire life, and having been raised a black man in the Jim Crow south, i know all too well how the law enforcement industry can produce negative seeds in the lives of those directly effected.

    Having such a close relationship with the prison system (through family members/friends being locked up), i wanted to do my best to try and detach myself from the emotion of the piece. I wanted to enjoy the beauty that was in the presentation of art that Patrisse curated.

    The beauty :: Having only seen predominately white faces do live art instillation, this was a very refreshing first for me. Seeing an all black cast of artists presenting something like this, LOVED IT! The symmetry was crazy! The level of detail that had to go into making sure the message was seamless must be applauded. Also, the selection of artist to collaborate with to make sure the message stayed pure was radical. The amount of trust that went into each person opening up and sharing that emotion throughout the set also visible!

    Again, i am truly blessed to have bore witness to this phenomenal presentation of such a grimacing conversation. The Prison Industrial Complex is REAL! And it will not be until more artist are creating controversial pieces like such, that the conversation can be taken from just the inner cities circles into the Santa Monica and Beverly Hills of the world.

    Much Appreciation Patrisse! Cannot wait to see you on tour!

  15. Damon Turner

    July 28, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    “The empty seats, the heavy black theater curtains, encircle the entire performance locking everyone in, creating a space where the watcher cannot be differentiated from the watched.” -Kima Jones

    I totally loved this review! I am also grateful for being able to see this piece live. It was both brutal and beautiful wrapped in one.

    The brutal :: Being apart of this American system my entire life, and having been raised a black man in the Jim Crow south, i know all too well how the law enforcement industry can produce negative seeds in the lives of those directly effected.

    Having such a close relationship with the prison system (through family members/friends being locked up), i wanted to do my best to try and detach myself from the emotion of the piece. I wanted to enjoy the beauty that was in the presentation of art that Patrisse curated.

    The beauty :: Having only seen predominately white faces do live art instillation, this was a very refreshing first for me. Seeing an all black cast of artists presenting something like this, LOVED IT! The symmetry was crazy! The level of detail that had to go into making sure the message was seamless must be applauded. Also, the selection of artist to collaborate with to make sure the message stayed pure was radical. The amount of trust that went into each person opening up and sharing that emotion throughout the set also visible!

    Again, i am truly blessed to have bore witness to this phenomenal presentation of such a grimacing conversation. The Prison Industrial Complex is REAL! And it will not be until more artist are creating controversial pieces like such, that the conversation can be taken from just the inner cities circles into the Santa Monica and Beverly Hills of the world.

    Much Appreciation Patrisse! Cannot wait to see you on tour!

  16. Damon Turner

    July 28, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    “The empty seats, the heavy black theater curtains, encircle the entire performance locking everyone in, creating a space where the watcher cannot be differentiated from the watched.” -Kima Jones

    I totally loved this review! I am also grateful for being able to see this piece live. It was both brutal and beautiful wrapped in one.

    The brutal :: Being apart of this American system my entire life, and having been raised a black man in the Jim Crow south, i know all too well how the law enforcement industry can produce negative seeds in the lives of those directly effected.

    Having such a close relationship with the prison system (through family members/friends being locked up), i wanted to do my best to try and detach myself from the emotion of the piece. I wanted to enjoy the beauty that was in the presentation of art that Patrisse curated.

    The beauty :: Having only seen predominately white faces do live art instillation, this was a very refreshing first for me. Seeing an all black cast of artists presenting something like this, LOVED IT! The symmetry was crazy! The level of detail that had to go into making sure the message was seamless must be applauded. Also, the selection of artist to collaborate with to make sure the message stayed pure was radical. The amount of trust that went into each person opening up and sharing that emotion throughout the set also visible!

    Again, i am truly blessed to have bore witness to this phenomenal presentation of such a grimacing conversation. The Prison Industrial Complex is REAL! And it will not be until more artist are creating controversial pieces like such, that the conversation can be taken from just the inner cities circles into the Santa Monica and Beverly Hills of the world.

    Much Appreciation Patrisse! Cannot wait to see you on tour!