He's Using This Police Experience For His New Art Exhibition

John Sims at Crowley Gallery
Zain Murdock
June 4, 2021

At 2am on May 17, 2021, John Sims was sleeping in his apartment at the 701 Center for Contemporary Art in Columbia, South Carolina. Next thing he knew, police burst in with their guns drawn and detained him!

Columbia’s police chief says they acted “professionally and within policy.” Really?

As soon as the police arrived, Sims asked them to show identification. They refused. Then, Sims asked to take a picture of them in his home. The response? “No, because you’ll probably post it somewhere.” 

If they were doing the right thing, why’d they act so sketchy?

Sims knew his pro-Black, anti-Confederacy exhibition could put him in danger. The 701 Center says that when police misguidedly searched white artists’ residencies before, they never detained them like Sims. 

But Sims isn’t stopping now. He’s using this as fuel. 

His new work, “A Near Death Residency,” documents HIS side of the story, and hopes to strip the police of their power through his narrative. “[P]lenty of people … thought I’d shut up and just be an artist,” he says. But this work “paints the pictures and brings the bullets.”

Sims' response might not get rid of the police overnight, but he aims to inspire others to rethink what they thought they knew about policing. 

If we’re talking liberation by any means necessary, art can be that means, too. 

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