Composting the monument: Pope.L, police, and the trouble with representation

Martyna Ewa Majewska*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The ways in which we view, process, and respond to photographs of racialized policing and police brutality are conditioned by existing imagery. Yet the images we are most likely to encounter, and the ones we are therefore most accustomed to viewing, fail to account for the totality of racial injustices, violence, and oppression. Photography's ability to occlude inconvenient truths and reproduce certain power dynamics as opposed to others has been identified in numerous analyses of images documenting civil rights activism. Corroborating such findings, photographs capturing the street performances Pope.L began staging in the 1970s, particularly his numerous crawls through New York City's streets and gutters, intervene in the rehearsed, customary interpretations of civil rights photography and contemporary images of racialized policing. By regarding Pope.L's performance photographs not as mere documentary records but as a preconceived photographic project, this paper demonstrates that Pope.L's images offer an incisive commentary on representations of the civil rights struggle and the photographic construction of its icons. Together with his sculptures and mixed-media installations, such works challenge the post-racial discourse of successful completion inscribed in monuments to the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, a discourse that has resurfaced and has been repurposed throughout recent U.S. history, up to and including the present day.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)102-116
Number of pages15
JournalVisual Arts Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2022


  • Pope.L
  • Performance
  • Photography
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Representation
  • Monuments
  • Iconicity
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Malcolm X
  • Police brutality
  • Post-racial discourse


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