Art/Design, BIPOC Voices

New exhibition celebrates Black and Brown lives taken by police

May their stories live on.

words by: Sahar Khraibani
Oct 21, 2022

A new exhibition taking place in WORTHLESSSTUDIOS, a not-for-profit arts space in Bushwick, is a celebration of Black and Brown lives taken by police. Mohammad Gorjestani, an Iranian-born filmmaker, created and developed the show alongside the studio. It is primarily an audio experience. The story revolves around 12 old pay phones in New York City that have been restored, adorned, and reprogrammed to play back voicemails that friends and family have left for their deceased loved ones throughout the years.


The show is a continuation of a number of previous projects on this topic that Gorjestani has worked on throughout the years. After producing a number of films about people killed by police, Gorjestani created the website project “1-800 Happy Birthday,” which allows users to write messages for people killed by police and systematic racism on their birthdays.


These messages have been made tangible and brought to life for the Brooklyn display. Each person that the exhibition is dedicated to receives a payphone with their name on it. The vitrines, which usually display advertisements, are filled with pictures that families have supplied. When a visitor approaches a payphone, it rings to invite them to listen to any pre-recorded messages or to leave their own.


Gorjestani grew up as in immigrant from the Middle East in the Bay Area, and has been heavily influenced by Black people and Black culture. He felt a responsibility to use his voice and his practice to engage the Black Lives Matter movement in a way that was positive.


He has previously created a short film titled Happy Birthday Oscar Grant, Love Mom, as an intimate celebration of Oscar Grant, in collaboration with Oscar’s mother. After creating 2 more films that celebrated the movement, he launched himself into the web exhibition “1-800 Happy Birthday” after Mario Woods was brutally shot by police in 2015.


New York City pay phones have been removed from the streets of New York, so after Gorjestani heard the news, he figured that this would be the perfect instrument and material to turn the digital website into a physical large-scale installation. A room designated as a living room with photo albums and apparel gifts from each celebrant’s family is also a part of the Brooklyn installation. The space is intended to give visitors a chance to consider the exhibition as a whole.


The show is on view through January 16, 2023 at 7 Knickerbocker Avenue, Brooklyn, New York.


In other exhibition news, here’s some exhibitions to check out now that it’s fall, and The Met’s next exhibition will be about Karl Lagerfeld.