LOS ANGELES WEEKLY
ART PICK OF THE WEEK / by Art Critic PETER FRANK
EXCERPT: “New Orleans based-artist Dawn DeDeaux suggest that the expected source of the ‘trouble’ is itself troubled, yet manifests its own tragic nobility. The focus of her darkly dramatic Soul Shadows: Urban Warrior Myths is the young African-American male. She populates the corridors of her catacomb-like - or jail-like - installa- tion with gilded, over life-size photographs of black youths, former or current gang-bangers and/or prisoners who here assume the styl- ized attitudes of ancient deities and modern ‘stars’. Ensconced in certain cul-de-sacs are other beautiful and menacing icons of the vio- lent life these doomed adolescents have led; and, behind false cell doors, various videos document that life. The media-intensive, ‘Sensurround’ Installation bombards the visitor with Impression and Information, all designed to de-heroicize urban warfare, including the prison lire visited (often unjustly) on survivors, and to re-validate the warriors/victims. DeDeaux's anti-funhouse Soul Shadows may be heavy going, but it is not blame-slinging “PC” agitprop: It conveys not anger, but empathy, engagement and hope.”
ESQUIRE MAGAZINE / British Edition
"THE KILLER COP AND THE COCAINE CONSPIRACY
By FRED SCHRUERS
February 1996 / EXCERPT:
When FBI agents in New Orleans mounted a massive police corruption sting to hail Officer Len Davis for major drug trafficking, they unwittingly recorded him in conversation with Paul ‘Cool’ Hardy, a vicious street gunman. The tape chillingly caught Davis and Hardy in the very act of conspiring to murder a young woman. Fred Schruers uncovers a disturbing story of rogue cops, killers and cocaine
When the cops swarmed the block where Kim Marie Groves had been killed with a single shot to the head at close range, two eyewitnesses were sure it had been her boyfriend Jimmy. Kim Groves’s son Corey, age seventeen, stretches as he leans against a chain-link fence, looks down at the corner where the killer had come from, and stifles a yawn. “I knew it wasn’t Jimmy,” he says, heavy lidded eyes peering out from beneath a black leather pork-pie hat. “Jimmy called her on the phone not a minute before it happened.”
There’s no possible way he could have got here that quickly. Stilled bored: “Jimmy live on Tennessee Street.”
Tennessee Street is over by the navigation canal, maybe five minutes away on the dusty, cratered streets of this Ninth Ward ‘hood. If this isn’t the poorest district in all of America then the difference isn’t worth arguing. The poverty here is Haitian, almost gaudy. In the late afternoon New Orleans sun, with a sprinkling of the little set-back houses painted in the blue pastels some think ward off bad spirits, it doesn’t seem as dire as the brick tombs of the Desire and Florida housing projects. But here, a drive-by happens just steps from your porch.
Corey glances up the street again. It’s not just a tic, two nights ago, a blue sedan rolled by here and two shooters inside let go with a shotgun and an AK. The bullet holes pepper a house siding about ten yards away from where he’s now standing.
Paul ‘Cool’ Hardy, the man the government says shot Corey’s mother, is deep in the parish jail. But his brother Wayne, twice up on murder charges, is on the streets. Paul Hardy (along with several implicated cops, police brass and others) was served with the Groves family’s civil suit just hours ago. Was this week’s drive-by a message from the Hardy Boys?
On Corey’s chest is a blurry color image of his mother, transferred from a snapshot to his white cotton T-shirt. He looks you in the ye and says, not discourteously but with an air of one explaining a neutral and factual thing to a slightly dim pupil, “Paul Hardy was just doin’ his job, man.”
New Orleans Police Department Signal 30 (homicide) Report Item J-21871-94:
On October 13, 1994, at 11:57pm the items listed below were collected by Detective Eric Hassler while at Charity Hospital.
One (1) pair of grey jeans
One (1) beige Spandex bra
One (1) black T-shirt
One (1) pair of white socks
One (1) Black sandal
Left behind on the street was a pool of blood and “three feet away and east”, a single 9mm shell casing. On Kim Marie Groves’s person when she died were $4 in US currency, two white earrings, a cigarette lighter, glass pipe, steel rod and a medicine bottle holding white (otherwise unidentified pills. A toxicology report revealed trace elements of cocaine in her bloodstream.
NOPD homicide officers had first looked into the eyewitnesses’ contention the the slight, short-haired black man who had arrived at the corner in a champagne-colored Nissan Maxima with two companions, ran up to her on Alabo Street, pulled a gun from his waistband and, at about 10:55pm, firedog fatal round into the left side of her head, was surely her boyfriend Jimmy, with whom, neighbor and eyewitness Roland Smith said, she had a “brutal” relationship. The couple had argued on the street earlier that day, said a second witness, and Smith believed they were “into drugs”.
But with Jimmy apparently (much of the NOPD and government files on the case are sealed pending a trial scheduled for March) alibied, the homicide cops were stymied. Then one day that remains undisclosed, but was certainly no later than the flurry of search warrants the government would serve on November 2, the FBI contacted the NOPD. While agents conducting an FBI police corruption sting were monitoring the cellular phone conversations of one Len Davis, an NOPD police officer who patrolled Groves’s district, they had recorded an extremely interesting exchange. Tragically, the FBI failed to recognize what they were hearing, but the NOPD soon realized that, less than 24 hours before her death, Kim Groves had lodged a brutality complaint against Len Davis with the department’s Internal Affairs Division, or IAD.
Using the cellular phone he’d asked for from what he thought to be drug dealers under his protection (in fact, they were FBI men), Davis had the following exchanges (here edited for conciseness) over several hours with Paul Hardy:
6:14pm. Davis says: “Nigger, I, I’m looking at that whore. Went down there today.”
Davis: “The bitch got in the car with the twins (Nathan and Nathaniel Norwood, the former of whom was identified to police by Groves as recipient of a pistol-shipping from Davis)…they might have been going to IAD…the bitch go light brown eyes, the bitch got on like a black sweat top with some faded like black jeans…the whore hanging out there now…you know what I wanna do…I was talking about when it get dark.”
Hardy: “Nigger, I know what’s happening…bring that picture. I want to check it out.”
6:31pm Davis: “ Then I want to put you niggers in the car…and go across the canal and show you what I’m talking about.”
(A woman Hardy was visiting apparently drove off in his car…causing a delay.)
9:49pm Davis: “…bitch y’all fucked over me…y’all ain’t went and handled ya’ll business.”
Hardy: “Nigger, I just bought my kids home…I…go out there now, bitch.”
Davis: “I’m gonna go pass see if I see that whore too and I just uh, come at ya and let your know. (From electronic surveillance fourteen minutes later): Come get this whore. Oo, oo, I’m gonna 911 this fucking…”
10:01 pm. Davis: “Man that whore’s standing out there right now…black coast, win her fucking hair…in that little bob like…with fucking jeans on with big bleach stains on the front. Standing in the middle of the fucking street talking-to one nigger.”
Hardy: “What’s up with the home. Homeboys, they out there?”
Davis: “No, fuck them. If they ain’t out there, get that whore!”
Hardy: “Awright, I’m on my way, my nigger.”
To many Americans it seems that the streets of the Republic are seeing the ugliest days they have ever seen. Certainly New Orleanians feel more besieged by crime then at any time in recent memory, even though the murder rate of more than one a day has actually declined someone in recent months is black-on-black, and (unfortunate as the stereotyping may be), drug-related. It was in this blood-and-money nexus, government prosecutors allege, that Len Davis, 30, and Paul Hardy, 31, met and came to be teamed up in the sordid mutually flagellating way their dialogue evidences. Forest city crying out for the return of law and order, there is some comfort in the reality that Davis was tagged as a target by zealous and resourceful agents of the federal government, and that the sophistication of his tracking has given us such an intimate look at the partnership of this suppose peace officer with Paul Hardy, who carried the rap sheet of a deadly urban villain.
The government will kill them both, if it can – provisions of the 1994’s Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act would make them subject to the death penalty for "a variety of existing federal crimes including the civil rights murder and federal witness murder alleged”. If convicted and then given the death sentence in a separate "penalty phase” of their trial, they would be the first so convicted anywhere in America under the new law. If executed, they would be the first criminals executed by the federal government since 1963.
Eddie Jordan, who is named early on when locals enumerate African-Americans a particular accomplishment is the US attorney for the district and the man who personally urged Attorney General Janet Reno to give her approval to the decision to seek the death penalty. (the federal executions Mira state laws, meaning Hardy and Davis would be killed by lethal injection.) Jordan was spurred to do so in part by the passion of his offices lead counsel on the case, Constantine Georges - a man you might not pick out as an assistant US attorney if you saw him walking, hirsute and steel-rimmed, near his apartment in a historic French Quarter building. A star school boy quarterback who was dubbed “the jazz crazed prosecutor” by Nancy Lemann in her witty landmark memoir of a state corruption case,The Ritz of the Bayou – and in fact a passionate prosecutor of libertarian political bent – Georges is chief of the office’s Violent Crime Task Force. He'd been keeping only half an eye and his fellow prosecutors police corruption staying until the day that cases lead counsel called him in and delivered the news that Len Davis now qualified as a target of a second federal case (along with Paul Hardy), for depriving Kim Groves of the most fundamental civil right – that of drawing breath.
The biographical form Len Davis filled out after his arrest on December 5, 1994, showed he had turned 34 months before, been on the fourth since he was 23, had a “lude [sic] conduct” "complaint dismissed in 1986, and took home net pay of $1000 a month. His monthly living expenses, including $220 tuition for his five-year-old daughter out of wedlock, Lyneisha, came to $995. On the line "other income” he wrote, "off-duty detail occasionally”,
Indeed. A detail is what New Orleans notoriously underpaid cops called moonlighting. Until recent reforms, it typically involves standing outside a bar to give the larcenous riff-raff on the streets from praying on the drunken riff-raff inside and on the sidewalk. When the FBI set up their staying, Davis brought in a number of fellow cops to work and especially to see warehouse detail -$97,000 worth of payoffs over several months. Davis, his patrol partner Sammie Williams, and six other unlucky cops face federal charges in a trial that will follow Davis and Hardy’s murder trial.
Just how did Davis go bad? A fuller answer will come if he’s convicted of murder and thereby enters his trial’s second phase in which his attorneys must tell his life story. But the simple answer is greed. His job history takes lunatic wobbles between ugliness and near-heroism. Arrested twice in 1985 for battery and urinating in public, he joined the force in 1987 and was soon kicked out of the police academy, then re-admitted. He’d been assigned to the 5th Police District - the city’s drugs-and-murder war zone, home to the Desire and Florida projects and a gulag for cops who messed up.
Davis had balls; on spring afternoon in 1980 he and his partner were in a guns-drawn stand-off with a suicidal teenage girl (her boyfriend had gotten her pregnant and left her) when Davis holstered his piece, eased up to her, and talked her into handing her revolver over. He made more than his share of dangerous collars, including a November 1992 Desire Street firefight in which he and five fellow cops wounded three out of four gunmen, and the night he stood popping caps at a van bearing three armed robbers who tried to run him down.
In July of 1991, Davis was awarded a Purple Heart after being shot in a wild chase on Saint Claude Avenue. Three suspects on a hold up spree, carrying two son of shotguns and a hunting rifle, opened up on Davises pursuing cruiser, shattering the windshield as he veered into a fence. He chased two suspects as they fled on foot, and was taking one into custody with the second open fire. As Davis was hit in the gut, and went down bleeding heavily, the first suspect stirred to flee. Davis crawled onto him until help arrived. Five months later, in another shoot out on dolphin Street, he shot a suspect in the leg, then snatched his gun away by the barrel. Early the next month Davis and a partner ran down to out of five suspects who gone down to citizens on benefit Street, earning one of his five career letters of commendation from the chief. He was off duty late one night in January 1993 when a man with a rifle shot up a downtown street, then was chased by Davis, firing two pistols he grabbed from his car.
All the while, he also was piling up complaints, earning two reprimands and four suspensions, including a 51 day furlough in 1992 for clubbing a woman with a flashlight. Twenty other complaints weren't deemed actionable. Internal Affairs knew he was a thug, but on reflected in his fat jacket of complaints was Davis's second life as the protector of Paul "cool "hearty. They called each other by the honorific of "my nigger", and served each others elicit interest in ways that are still coming to light.
Hardy was three years younger than Davis and along with his brother Wayne one of the baddest dudes in the city "he is known to us, "set an FBI agent testifying at a detention hearing following his arrest for murder, "as the leader of a violent drug organization operating out of public housing projects in the New Orleans area.”
Dawn DeDeaux is a native New Orleans conceptual artist (her work has been shown at the Whitney and other major museums) who's also part academic, anthropologist and reporter. When the FBI served a warrant on her studio this past October, she made sure a local newspaper man and TV crew were present she wanted it known that she gave up her archives unwillingly. [Correction Update: DeDeaux did not notify the press personally, and were present due to news directors’ access to police radio dispatches.]
The feds boxed up photos, paintings and copies of two video works The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew and Drive-by Shooting. She hooked up with the Hardy Boys after realizing that they were virtual heroes - “Urban Warriors” as she termed them in a major exhibition at New Orleans Contemporary Arts Center - and to the juvenile offenders she was working with in a prison art programme.
In one of the Hardy Boys videos, Wayne opined, "Somebody's going to see what you do no matter what you do. You might say, ‘Well I'm gonna drive by, I'm gonna cut the lights off, and I'm gonna spray the people and keep going.’ But somebody's gonna recognize you or your car!…. that's how you feel, you know. You're listening two music by Eazy-E and you hearing, ‘when you spot a sucker, you kill him’, and so you singing, and you're being ruthless and shit, listening to Ice T and shit, and you figure, ‘I'm gonna be in that life now. I'm gonna ride around with the pistol, and if I see a nigger and a little chick around him, I'm gonna blow his ass away and drive off, cruise on by.’ And if you go to jail, so what. Do year and you're back on the street again…”
Empty braggadocio? The feds don't think so. The authorities think not. Government prosecutors have listed a roster of crimes which they are hoping to include as aggravating factors in their case they say the Hardy Boys stand accursed of, a list including:
July 29, 1989. “Paul Hardy directly participated in a shooting spree that resulted in the death of one Michael Handy, the permanent paralysis of William Gettridge and the wounding of several other people…Hardy…followed one of the shooting victims to the emergency room of a local hospital and shot at the victim as he was being wheeled inside…”
September 18, 1988 “Paul Hardy…pulled up alongside another vehicle and shot through the door of the vehicle with an assault rifle, killing passenger Jerome Andrews.”
April 22, 1994 “Paul Hardy had Corey Richardson murdered in order to keep him quiet after Richarson, pursuant to Paul Hardy’s orders, had previously murdered on Don Bright.”
October 20, 1994 “Paul Hardy indicated to Len Davis he would, at Davis’s wish, kill the ‘twins’ who had previously reported Len Davis to the New Orleans Police Internal Affairs Division.”
But the twins, not surprisingly, backed off their report. It was Nathan Norwood who had been set upon boy Davis and partner Sammie Williams in eyeshot of Kim Marie Groves. Her eight-page complaints filed the day before her murder, described how Williams had slugged Nathan with the butt of his gun. The boy had his face cut by being around into glass, and, according to the complaint, Davis had demanded, “Where is it? You know where it is.”
The Davis / Hardy connection becomes easy to see and comprehend. Hardy got protection for his dope and killing enterprises, and Davis got a truce with patrol district’s most dangerous miscreant - plus Hardy’s services. The government charges he paid Hardy some $200 to kill Kim Groves. Davis said he’d been told by Nathan that the boy would retract the account of brutality he’d earlier given police, and therefore planned to let the your live - as long as he kept to the new story. Otherwise, Davis said, “It’s “rock-a-bye, baby”.
It took a seasoned shooter to expend just on round on Kim Groves. “Cool” showed plenty of sang-froid as he dawdled towards his appointment. Almost 45 minutes had passed that night between the time of Hardy’s assurances that ‘we on our way’ and his next conversation with Davis, and he repeated, ‘we on our way’.
10:43pm. Davis: “…Bitch if she still out there all this motherfucking time…after its done, go straight uptown and call me.”
It was 27 minutes later Davis picked up his cellular telephone to call Sammie
Williams.11:10pm. Davis: “Sogma; 30 [homicide]. NAT [Necessary Action Taken].”
Williams: “You lie! [pause] When it came out?”
Davis: “I got the radio on right now.”
Over the next several minutes, Davis monitored police radio traffic from his cruiser, also checking with cop pals, as to the post-shooting events. “It’s in the 1400 block of Alabo Street, it’s a head shot,” reported officer Rickey Hunter, “…ambulance and a code 3 and now they got him going to Charity…”
“Now it’s a 10-7 thing? Asked Williams, using the department’s numerical code for “out of service” or more commonly, “a dead subject”.
Finally, an officer responded to Davis’s question “That’s looking like a 30?” with the affirmative, “10-4…black female…G-R-O-V-E-S.”
Davis’s cry of “Yes!”, which will almost certainly be played by government prosecutors in open court, is barely a word; the sound is a trebly, orgasmic wheeze, a squawk from a bleating Albert Ayler sax solo.
“it’s confirmed, Daddy,” says a laughing Sammie Williams, and Paul Hardy asks, “It’s handled, right?” Len Davis then comes back with the refrain that’s familiar from the film New Jack City as gun moll Keisha’s coda over a fresh human kill: Yeah, yeah, yeah, roc - rock-a-bye.”
The investigation that would ensnare Len Davis on federal charges of eating Coke traffic and allegedly catch him in the very active conspiring to murder Kim Groves was triggered not by any particular astute local peace officer but by the fortuitous appearance of a first class snitch.
It seems Davis and his set were so arrogantly evil that even the bad guys turned on them. The revolt began on Christmas Eve 1993, when Sammie Williams gave and East New Orleans dope dealer the bad news – come up with ten grand protection money by that evening or go out of business. The dealer (as the story goes was recounted by an FBI agent before a federal judge) bargained Sammie down to $6000. Then he went to the FBI, declaring that he was sick of paying protection money to local cops. "They wired him up,” says Special Agent Donald MacArthur, "Set him out to meet with Officer Williams, and he made a payment of $3000.” As the wire recorded during a meeting inside a car at a shopping mall parking lot on January 12, 1994, Sammie took the three and told the dealer (known to the feds as CW, or co-operating witness) that the dangers of protecting him on his drug drops meant that Sammie needed an extra hand - Len Davis. The deal would start when the remaining three grand was paid. Not only would the dealer be safe in "breaking down” (measuring and bagging) his “birds” (kilos of coke); Williams volunteered that if the CW had his drugs ripped off as MacArthur relates) he should just advise him of who had done it. He would go get the drugs back and he would do them if he had to, [which] means kill them.” A few weeks after that meeting, Sammie brought Davis along for a ride with the CW: "they drove away from the area where they originally picked him up in the CW told them that his dope had gotten in and he tested it it was good. At this point they stopped the unit and took the CW out and searched him roughly and started giving him a very difficult time about using words like dove and cocaine. They told him to use words like ‘stereos’… Williams warned the CW that he feared a sting and I ain't going Down in no stupid style. “
- Between that day in the beginning of May, 1994, Sammie and Len would do just that. The CW called them in to help him deliver $100,000 to his "main man "and on May 4, add a posh New Orleans hotel, they met him - the FBI's "outside "undercover agent, a veterans narcotics agent imported from another city. The special agent, who is identity is being guarded until he testifies in court, was convincing enough for Len and Sammie. They became watch dogs for a warehouse near Lake Pontchartrain where he stashed Coke. They made about a grand per key they protected. The bogus business with staffed entirely by FBI agents and plants safe for Davises guard detail (all cops, now I'm mostly doing better time in various local jails and halfway houses). 60 agents worked the case - surveillance aircraft and swat teams on call - and got 600 hours of tape.
In the exurbs release that's far, it's hard not to snigger at the complaints of the corrupt cops as they sit in the air-conditioned van they demanded (it was provided, complete with bug so the feds could listen in) or chatter on the cell phones Davis demanded from “the main man.”
On the very night Kim Marie Groves was shot down, as Len Davis zigzag around East New Orleans tracking her demise, police officers Sheldon Polk and Brian Brown sat outside the warehouse grousing, cooking up a plan to rip off the suppose Coke dealers.
Browne: "I'll pop them bitches… Polk, you listening?”
Polk: "Pull those motherfuckers right in the bushes right over there.”
Brown: “them niggers got a motherload in that motherfucker now. I'm going to work two days to get 750 fucking dollars…?”
Polk: [Some minutes later] “say, bro, they ain't no houses close by to hear the gunfire.”
Later Polk further discusses “stting that Nigger (the sizable outside undercover agent) up”. “He is a big motherfucker, boy will have to shoot that bitch several times.”
Is after hearing such conversations that senior FBI agents began insisting to the US attorney that it was time to shut down the sting before of Davis is rogue cops killed one or more agents in a rip-off. But close monitoring, and perhaps the fear detail cops had of Davis, proved sufficient to protect the FBI men. Kim Groves wasn't so lucky.
That's a direct instigation of Attorney General Reno, who last year very nearly invoked her Justice Department powers to take over management of the NOPD, the FBI now works side-by-side with management of an Internal Affairs Division that’s been renamed the Public Integrity Unit under new police chief Richard Pennington.
The corruption and incompetence inherited by Pennington has been build for years, and it’s the police department’s struggle to reform itself and turn back a shock wave of violent crime that has led Mayor Marc Morial - who heard the angry voices of striking cops outside his window when his father Dutch, New Orleans’ first black mayor fifteen years ago, tried to clean up the department - to describe the current mood as “a battle for the soul of the city.”
Who is prosecution of Hardy and Davis and Davis is corrupt fellow cops may win part of that battle. The cities homicide rate is down dramatically so in the housing projects where Pennington has put cops on foot patrol. But street crime, in this city that's almost uniquely checkerboarded with side-by-side patches of genteel wealth and abject poverty, is a constant source of worry and grief. A five-year-old child was recently shot dead in an uptown carjacking.
Well, the FBI, sometime villain in a country that has always said the greatest ambivalence about surveillance in the long arm of uncle Sam, has brought their full resources to bear on avenging the usurpation of the civil rights of the late with Kim Groves. They felt sure the gun used in the slaying of groves would turn up when they made their sweet to arrest the prime suspect in the murder case.
On November 2, 1994, FBI agents found out at DAWN to serve several search warrants. They checked three locations and three vehicles, one of which was the champagne-coloured Nissan Maxima in which one Steve Jackson had driven Hardy and Damon Causey (merely a passenger on the night Kim Groves Stein although a dangerous character in his own right) to the murder scene. It was in Causey’s home they hit the jackpot. At six in the morning eight FBI agents armed with drawn handguns and what caused his mother Willie may Thomas called long rifles entered Thomas is home on Florida Street in the projects with the search warrant for cocaine. They polled Cozzi, 25, at first; the family was rousted out in their bed clothes, frisked, and returned to the kitchen as agent Donald Dixon, rummaging in a chest of drawers, found a 9mm Beretta handgun.
"Who does this gun belong to?” Asked Dixon.
“A podna of mine,” replied Causey.
“Who’s your podna?”
Causey told him it was Paul Hardy.
A bill of sale confirmed that, and the gun was sent to the firearms unit at FBI headquarters, followed a few days later by the spent shell casing that had been found 3 feet from Kim Groves body. The lab report confirm that the Beretta had indeed fired the fatal bullet.
The arrest of the cops who had guarded the warehouse and more crucially, Len Davis and his alleged co-conspirators in the murder of Kim Marie Groves, took place on December 5.
Paul “Cool” Hardy, the alleged trigger man listed eight children out of wedlock. He was incarcerated amidst other federal prisoners in Orleans Parish Prison, where the sound of the traffic speeding pass a nearby I-10 never quite stills. He'll go on trial with his co-defendants in March, and possibly, in the time between now and then, recall his words for the video camera in The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew: “It ain’t worth killin’ nobody. ‘Cause when you kill somebody and you go to jail, it’s like you dead. You can’t do nothin’. When I was in jail [before], God knows I wished I was the victim. Because I suffered. Being in jail, that’s not fun.”
"Montage: The Ghost in the Machine" By Haus Staartjes
Spring 1994 Issue / EXCERPT:
"Dawn DeDeaux's Urban Warriors was one of the most moving and jarring shows at Montage, and an admirable revelation of the courage of this female artist. The work presented autobiographical confes- sions of African-American, New Orleans criminals...
In one room, an elderly white couple viewed a streetside shooting scene while seated in two living room chairs - not much different from being at home. This however, was a half hour of excruciating detail of a dying victim, with his family and a crowd gathered around him. DeDeaux uses the viewer's voyeuristic interest in gang violence as a double irony..."
ART SPACE MAGAZINE
"DEDEAUX'S SOUL SHADOWS & WARRIOR MYTHS
Cover Story By JOE LEWIS / May 1993
EXCERPT“...The trouble with a lot of politically motivated art is a failure of nerve. Artist who produce work that they know is not favored by our established regime are not necessarily taking risks, since they can forecast the results. Truly taking a risk means not knowing what's going to happen in the end. It's about placing yourself in extremes and working with no predetermined agenda...
“Dawn DeDeaux's multi-media installation, Soul Shadows: Urban Warrior Myths, is a pioneering work of this kind. It grew out of a risk-taking public project and the results open up new avenues of thought about pressing social issues...
“Once through the main gates (DeDeaux acknowledges a debt to Rodin's Gates of Hell) you enter the long ‘Hall of Judgment’: A rock- ing environmental soundtrack plays us like a drum speaking in tongues - made of multiple overlays of a gospel choir mixed with rap music composed by juvenile offenders, which in turn blends with the voices from continuous video presentations in the other ten rooms of her house. The hallway has been perspectively altered, narrowing dramatically as you look down it... and lit as if you were looking into an oven with the bottom flame broiler on. The edges where the floor meets the walls are scarlet hot, and a fluorescent seepage creates an illusion of floatation. You think twice about stopping but are engaged by distorted silhouette images of others who have lingered too long. Seized, frozen in time, and stacked two-up as if they were in holding cells, these ‘soul shadows’ are 4' x 5' enlargements made from still frames that DeDeaux transferred from a rap video she produced with juvenile inmates. These Dantesque images line the hall, not passing judgment so much as seeking a way out, their vapor like movements broken only occasionally by surveillance monitors....
“At the end of this gauntlet...is the antechamber - ‘Tomb of the Urban Warrior’ - and its association with spiritual and historic monuments is intended as a reference to the extreme societal conditions that offer up death games as a heroic option to today’s youth. Metallic gold is used extensively in the imagery and architecture of the antechamber. DeDeaux points out that the 20th century urban youth's hunger for gold - whether in the form of rings, chains, medallions, earrings or even teeth - is to be seen within historical continuum that stretches from Tutankhamen's tomb to today's corporate Rolex watches. It is part of a search for symbols of empowerment, a desire shared by people throughout history. In our inner cities, where a non-inclusive society has provided few viable options, empowerment and self- respect are increasingly sought through a mythological lifestyle of crime and violence...
“A life-size gilded photograph of Wayne Hardy, a former gang leader, protects the entrance to the antechamber. He assumes the posture of the Chinese god of fate and chaos Pan-ku. Although Pan-ku tradi- tionally holds a shield inscribed with the yin-yang, DeDeaux replaces that symbol with a shooting target. Hardy as the shield-bearing Urban Warrior is also the target of a violent wave of self-genocide in the inner cities. DeDeaux has been moved by the statistics on the ‘van- ishing black adolescent male’: 87% of last year’s murders (1989) were committed by black males, 21 years or younger; 85% of those mur- dered were black males, 21 years or younger. In recent years, the prison population of black youths has tripled.
“She puts a spin on all of this by placing the target-holding Hardy in the position of a Grand Inquisitor. His image is in constant view from the Hall of Judgment. It is Hardy who judges you as you walk toward the Tomb of the Urban Warrior. The tomb depicts his mythological transformation from gang leader / war god into "selected spiritual fig- ures" - Jesus Christ, John Wayne, Malcolm X - in a series of enlarged gilded photographs. The direction this imagery is moving is not toward glorification, but humanization. It speaks to the prevailing notion that these men are write-offs....It is through the evolving por- traits of Wayne Hardy that DeDeaux reveals her true belief - that with- in each of us there is the potential for transformation.
“One of the things that Soul Shadows: Urban Warrior Myths shows in great detail is how much everybody yearns for the same things out of life: the opportunity to achieve individual identity and ascend to one's own mental, physical and spiritual potential, and the right to a safe haven for oneself and one's family. There is no way to evaluate the effect this project has had on the participants, or the effect it will have on those who view it. However George Bernard Shaw once remarked that he who confuses political liberty with freedom and political equality with similarity has never thought for five minutes about either. DeDeaux has provided us with a chance to learn and to expe- rience and to give these issues much more than five minutes of our time. Ignorance of these issues is not necessarily bliss, while self knowledge is definitely a key to ascension...”