“A great evil was done here,” Courtney Desiree Morris stated at the beginning of her hour and 15-minute-long performance outside San Francisco’s Foster Gwin Gallery. “An evil borne of a longer history of terror and theft and violence.” As Morris interrogated America’s colonialist history, she swept the ground, interspersing her monologue with bible psalms.
The thoughtful art piece was conceived after Collier Gwin, the head of Foster Gwin Gallery, hosed down an unhoused Black woman known as “Q” on the sidewalk outside of his business. The notorious incident was captured in a viral video originally posted to TikTok, eliciting outrage. Gwin initially defended his actions but eventually issued an apology, the gallery shut down its social media, and the business is now marked as “temporarily closed” on Google Maps.
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Morris, an artist, writer, and University of California, Berkeley professor staged a performance outside the shuttered storefront on Thursday, January 12. In a work titled “We are a long-memoried people,” Morris spread soapy water on the sidewalk where the unhoused woman was sprayed and then scrubbed the ground with a broom.
Morris directly addressed Gwin’s action. “No one is trash. No one is disposable. Unhoused people are not disposable,” she recited. “Don’t let this capitalism simulation fool you, owning property doesn’t make you more valuable. All human beings are children of God.”
Morris told Hyperallergic that her thoughts were monopolized by anger toward Gwin after she first watched the viral video, but a conversation shifted her perspective toward the victim. For her performance, Morris wanted to honor and remember Q.
“I needed to think about what an ethic of care looks like in this intervention,” Morris said. “It’s a moment we should all be sitting with.”
Morris explained that the idea of cleaning the sidewalk originated from an act she used to watch her grandmother undertake. Every so often, the matriarch would scrub the front porch while she sang and prayed. Morris began to appreciate the power of this gesture as she got older.
Like many West Coast regions, San Francisco has been hit particularly hard by America’s homelessness crisis, an issue brought into dystopic relief by the fact that the city is also one of the nation’s richest.
The city’s Montgomery Street is filled with posh boutiques and coffee shops, and besides the sheet of plywood covering Foster Gwin Gallery’s front door, Morris said there is no evidence that last week’s act of inhumanity occurred there.
Morris felt that there should be a visual marker, too. She tied a red scarf to the place where Q was hosed and left it there after she finished her performance.
“It needed to be cleansed,” Morris said. “There needed to be a reckoning with the violence that had happened there.”