John Akomfrah’s The Turkey Shoot Galactico

 

© Cailean Couldridge, 2015
© Cailean Couldridge, 2015

Perhaps the most visually striking of the works in the EM15 pavilion’s Leisure Land Golf is John Akomfrah’s contribution, The Turkey Shoot Galactico. Upon placing the golf ball to tee off, the player looks down a long promenade of flags, only to meet a hooded figure at the end of the hole. This life-size character perhaps cuts an intimidating figure as you wander around the course, but it quickly dawns on you

© Cailean Couldridge, 2015
© Cailean Couldridge, 2015

that he is in fact kneeling and vulnerable. The target printed on the chest of his hoodie only reiterates this. Anonymous and faceless, his black hands are the only indication of an African American identity. Even the seemingly innocent flags condemn him to death, pointing towards the victim like guns.

Though the piece of work can be read as a comment on the number of shootings of African Americans by white policemen in America, Akomfrah primarily maintains that the clothes, a generic grey hoodie and blue jeans, are intended to reflect those worn by 17 year old Trayvon Martin, who was fatally shot in 2012 by George Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch volunteer in Florida. In the aftermath of the killing, photos of Trayvon wearing a grey hoodie circulated and quickly became a familiar symbol for disenfranchised youth. The hoodie was an emblem for many of his supporters, disillusioned with the lack of justice for Trayvon. They rallied together to protest frequently at events such as the ‘Million Hoodie March’.

© Cailean Couldridge, 2015
© Cailean Couldridge, 2015

The title of Akomfrah’s work, though ambiguous at first, is certainly an interesting choice. The origins of the ‘Turkey Shoot’ lie in a traditional hunting technique for slaughtering wild turkeys. The hunter would fire a single shot in order to scatter the flock, then wait for the turkeys to return individually to that spot. The term was appropriated by the military and police organisations, who adopted it when describing situations in which the enemy was caught off-guard or outnumbered. Unarmed when he was shot, Trayvon Martin’s untimely death may certainly be described in these terms. More generally, a Turkey Shoot can be understood as an opportunity for one side to take advantage of a grossly unfortunate or unjust situation. This was not only applicable to Martin’s actual death, but also apparent in the aftermath and media coverage. At the time, Fox News claimed that Trayvon’s hoodie had been ‘as much responsible for his death as George Zimmerman’. Trayvon’s life and digital footprint, particularly his social media profiles, were scoured for details that might paint him as a violent young man with behavioural issues.

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© Cailean Couldridge, 2015

‘Galactico’ primarily alludes to a star of Real Madrid football club, very much with celebrity status. Considerations of the celebrity or cult aspect that surrounded Trayvon’s death come under question here. Could we even say that Trayvon was made a martyr after his death? Akomfrah also regards ‘Galactico’ to have alternate implications of ‘otherness’, placing his figure (as well as Trayvon and many other African American victims) as ‘foreign’ and ‘strange’ because of the colour of their skin. The anonymity of Akomfrah’s figure works on two seperate levels. One the one hand, the faceless statue is given no features with which we can identify him. He does not possess human characteristics, and becomes merely a target at which we aim our shot. On the other hand, Akomfrah’s anonymous figure may come to represent universality and unity.

 

Cailean Couldridge

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