LOS ANGELES — One year ago during the Frieze LA art fair, activist and artist Patrisse Cullors led a crowd of art-goers in a communal performance of the Electric Slide. In the middle of the faux-New York City streetscape of the Paramount Studios backlot where Frieze was held, participants shimmied and side-stepped in unison as Cullors guided them through the movements. The joyful and sometimes goofy dance was a welcome, judgement-free alternative to the commercial art-world intrigues unfolding within the large fair tent. Titled “Fuck White Supremacy, Let’s Get Free,” the performance was an attempt to bring Cullors’s activism — she is a co-founder of Black Lives Matter and an advocate for prison abolition — into a space and to an audience that might not be as familiar with it. She viewed it as a way for people to rejuvenate, regenerate, and refocus through movement and community.
“The last four years of this administration has been demoralizing,” she told the Art Newspaper last year. “Part of the response is to not allow them to take away our joy — not allow them to take away our laughter, our creativity.”
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Though the work addresses the big umbrella issue of white supremacy, each iteration has a specific motivation. Cullors first performed the piece in 2019 in the parking lot behind ltd gallery in Mid-Wilshire, as a response to the child separations and detentions at the border. The Frieze performance was tied to an LA County prison reform ballot measure she was leading at the time. “Getting to reach a global audience this year is important and necessary,” she told Hyperallergic via email. “We have the opportunity through this piece to focus on challenging white supremacy in all of its forms. The Black Lives Matter movement has grown so much globally since I co-founded it in 2013 and getting to dance with the world in this moment is a celebration of that.”
The Electric Slide is a line dance created in 1976 by choreographer Ric Silver to accompany “Electric Boogie,” a reggae-tinged, mid-tempo disco song by reggae legend Bunny Wailer (who passed away earlier this month). A subsequent recording by Marcia Griffiths in 1983 renewed its popularity, but it was her 1989 remix that cemented the enduring legacy of both the song and dance. “It has something to do with unifying large, diverse crowds of people,” Griffiths said of the song’s crossover appeal in 1989. “It is a cultural phenomenon, really something to behold.”
“In the Black community we do the electric slide at weddings and funerals to celebrate life and to process grief,” explained Cullors. “The steps are so simple but people can add in their own expressions to move, heal, and recharge their bodies and spirits.”
On Sunday April 11, Cullors will be restaging “F*ck White Supremacy, Let’s Get Free” online for a global audience, in partnership with the Hammer Museum with support from UGG footwear and apparel company. The events of the past year — including a worldwide pandemic and related isolation, police brutality, struggles for racial and economic justice, and a contested election — have left many of us feeling exhausted and disillusioned. There is a renewed urgency to connect with others around the world through a shared expression of exuberance and solidarity. Indeed the song’s closing lyrics speak to this sense of borderless camaraderie:
Now you can’t hold it, It’s electric!
But you know it’s there,
Yeah here there everywhere
“The museum’s mission has always been about harnessing the power of art and ideas to build a more just world, and joy is absolutely necessary for healing and for facing the many challenges ahead,” Ann Philbin, director of the Hammer Museum, said in a press statement. “This worldwide electric slide dance party with Patrisse is the perfect way to recharge and lift our spirits as we battle systemic racism.”
Joining Cullors during the six-hour live-streamed event will be two DJ collectives: Los Angeles-based Cumbiatón, whose mission is to “center womxn, trans, and queer people of color both on the dance floor and in the Dj booth,” and Everyday People, described by the New York Times as a “socially conscious daytime party that celebrates the African diaspora.” Participants can submit their own Electric Slide dance videos to be played during the event through the Hammer’s website. Before the party kicks off, Cullors and Hammer associate curator Erin Christovale will discuss the ideas behind the performance.
For Cullors, this performance is not an end in itself, but just one in a series that celebrates and energizes the movement for racial justice. “I hope that after the performance everyone will feel grounded and connected through shared joy,” she said. “Dancing brings people together and has the ability to heal. We are constantly being exposed to racial violence and death because of the US government and its neglectful response to COVID-19. We need joy and encouragement to keep fighting and winning. Our work is nowhere near done, but we can stop and celebrate what has been done so far.”
“F*ck White Supremacy, Let’s Get Free” will take place online via the Hammer Museum on Sunday, April 11, 12–6pm (PST).