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Stateside Podcast: Detroit artist Rashaun Rucker's allegorical pigeons

“In America, I was free only in battle, never free to rest — and he who finds no way to rest cannot long survive the battle.”

Those are the words of Black writer, thinker, and civil rights advocate James Baldwin. And for many Black Americans, those words ring as true today as when they were written by Baldwin nearly 50 years ago.

That includes interdisciplinary artist Rashaun Rucker, whose latest exhibit—Never Free to Rest—draws its name from the quote.

“To me, it just kind of hit a chord with me always whenever I saw that quote by him, and it just spoke to me about some of the burdens that we carry as Black people and especially as a Black man.”

Rucker had been wanting to explore ideas around "conditioning and Black men in America" in his work when he got some advice from fellow Detroit artist Tiff Massey: make it unconventional.

Enter: the pigeon.

On the way to his job as a photographer with the Detroit Free Press, he ran across a flock of pigeons pecking at some spilled popcorn on the side walk. Rucker tried to scare them away, but they wouldn't budge.

"I said to myself, like god, I really hate pigeons. And it was like ding ding ding! It's like, oh my god, people probably think that way about us. We're in the way, we're taking up space, we're supposedly living off scraps in the system."

Click through the photos above to read more about how Rucker used images of pigeons to explore and critique the way that Black men are treated in America.

Never Free to Rest is on view to the public at the U of M Institute for the Humanities in Ann Arbor. The show runs through October 15, 2021. Rucker will be giving a virtual talk about his work this Thursday evening, September 30 as part of the Penny Stamps Speaker Series.

April Van Buren
April Van Buren is a producer for Stateside. She produces interviews for air as well as web and social media content for the show.