Spontaneous Shrines

"We who build shrines and construct public altars or parade with photographs of the deceased will not allow you to write off victims as regrettable statistics…They are, I believe, the voice of the people." –Jack Santino

Archive for the tag “Occupy Wall Street”

Skittles, iced tea, and 1,000,000 hoodies for Trayvon Martin

On March 21, 2012,  I went  to Union Square in New York City where thousands of protesters had gathered for the Million Hoodie March in honor of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old who was shot and killed by a Neighborhood Watch member in Sanford, Florida on February 26.

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

The majority of protesters were wearing “hoodies” or sweatshirts with hoods which they had pulled up over their heads:

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Many of the protesters were carrying bags of Skittles:

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

…while others carried bottles of Arizona iced tea:

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

It was reported that Martin was wearing a hoodie and walking home from a convenience store where he had bought Skittles and iced tea when he was shot.

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

This particular incident has sparked outrage across the country due to the possible racial profiling involved in the lack of action taken by local police to prosecute Martin’s shooter, George Zimmerman.  It does not surprise me that such a large protest would take place on the streets of New York.  This city is often at the forefront of social movements and with a substantial #Occupy contingent supporting the march, the large turnout was to be expected.

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

However, as someone fascinated by spontaneous memorialization practices, I was drawn to this march in particular because of how it was dressed.

If I were at a spontaneous shrine for Trayvon Martin, I would expect to find the usual teddy bears, flowers, and candles alongside certain objects specifically for Martin and his particular death.  There might be sweatshirts but I am almost certain there would be Skittles and iced tea.  Like the shrine for Amy Winehouse where there were bottles of alcohol and cigarettes, the shrine for Martin would have objects people associate with him.

As this was a memorial march [not just a political one], I believe the protesters’ decision to wear and carry these Martin-specific items makes this a mobile shrine of sorts.  Like an internet memorial that can be accessed by anyone–even someone far away from a death site–a memorial march/protest creates a memorial space [and place to grieve] that is accessible to these memorializers.  It serves the same purpose as any other spontaneous shrine; it calls attention to the circumstances that led to this person’s death and force onlookers to bear witness to the consequences.

As memento mori, these hooded people walking the streets of New York at night ask us all to consider the question:

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

To see more of my photos from the Million Hoodie March, click here,  here or here.  To sign the petition written by Martin’s family calling for the prosecution of his shooter, George Zimmerman, click here.

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Occupy Oakland: A shrine for USMC vet Scott Olsen

On October 25th, 2011, U.S. Marine Corps veteran Scott Olsen was injured in a conflict with police at the Occupy Oakland movement (a northern California affiliate of Occupy Wall Street).  Shortly thereafter, a shrine was erected to recognize his injury.

Spontaneous shrines are most often erected at the location a person has died.  Especially when the death is of a prominent public figure, the shrines are also often located where the person lived or spent most of her or his time.  For example, in the case of Princess Diana’s death, shrines were erected both near the tunnel in Paris where her car crash occurred and at the palaces of the royal family in the U.K.

Although many death-site shrines are created by family members and close acquaintances of the deceased, certain deaths call for a more participatory or public response.  One of the most fascinating and moving shrines I’ve ever seen was located in Potsdam, Germany following the fatal beating of an Ethiopian-German man.  The attack sparked extreme controversy over post-WWII identity, racism, and neo-Nazism in Germany (more about this shrine to come in a later post).  Particularly when a death is highly controversial or socially unsettling, the resulting shrine tends to be a community affair, rather than being left to the family.  Because the death itself demands a response from the community, the shrine may becomes the forum for that response, allowing people to come together and speak out.

This shrine for Scott Olsen is very interesting for a number of reasons.  News of his injury (he was hit in the face by a “projectile,” possibly a tear gas canister) went viral almost immediately.  His status as a USMC veteran of the Iraq War makes his injury a potentially controversial issue.  Not only does it bring to light the occasionally violent outcomes of the clashes between police and protesters, it also highlights the diversity of the protesters.  His injury was taken up by certain protesters as a poster case of police violence– not only are people getting hurt, veterans are getting hurt.  Others not  involved with the protests have branded his injury an unfortunate outcome of anti-American activities– he was patriotic, and now he is not, so this is what happens.

The shrine has become one of the rallying spots for the movement in support of Olsen.  There are dozens of votive candles, photos of Olsen, pro-vet posters, and flowers.  One of the unique features is the series of posters calling for people to contribute money to a fund helping to pay for Olsen’s hospital bills.  The shrine is not for a death, but for a life, perhaps not even so much for a person, but for an event, for an injury…

Several videos of the shrine have been posted on youtube, photos of the shrine have appeared on several tumblr and flickr feeds, and the incident has been featured in the headlines of numerous papers including the Washington Post, the U.K. paper The Guardian, and the Huffington Post.  There are several Scott Olsen Facebook pages including Scott OlsenWe are all Scott Olsen, and For Scott Olsen.

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Spontaneous Shrines

"We who build shrines and construct public altars or parade with photographs of the deceased will not allow you to write off victims as regrettable statistics...They are, I believe, the voice of the people." --Jack Santino

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