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Sense Us 2020 is a mixed-media installation of images and text on flattened shipping boxes by artist Nicky Enright. It is a public response to the questions around race on the current 2020 U.S. Census. Created to mimic the aesthetic of protest signs on cardboard and with a symbolically limited palette of black, white, and brown, the installation points to America’s pervasive fixation on race/ethnicity criteria and status checkboxes.
Through the dynamic installation of Sense Us 2020, Enright strives to understand the connections among the race/ethnicity boxes on the census and other boxes of this historical moment: from the casket boxes of recurrent racist violence, to election-year ballot boxes and quarantine and intubation boxes; from mass incarceration, to town “squares” and monument pedestal boxes; from Zoom/Skype boxes, Amazon boxes, and cash vaults to riot-police kettling, a state-of-the-art form of containment.
Enright’s research into official race categories began a decade ago during the 2010 census, with an interactive wall painting, Sense Us 2010, and his interest in the far-reaching implications of such surveys has continued in subsequent artworks. The artist states: “I am fascinated by the history of these ever-changing checkboxes that begins with the first census of 1790, when there were only three categories listed: ‘free white persons,’ ‘other free persons,’ and ‘slaves.’”
In 2013, Enright created an artist book titled, Race Through the Census, that explores the history of the questionnaire. Because although science has debunked the notion of racial difference, former slave nations such as the United States continue to classify people along such imaginary lines. The 2000 Census recognized the questionable notion of “mixed race” people—Enright’s official status in the population count—whereas before that, an individual could not officially choose more than one box. Furthermore, there is no institution in the United States unaffected by the nation's continued obsession with race categories.
This project is a historical marker of who we sense ourselves to be in the year 2020, and the artist plans to continue to revisit these questions in the next census year 2030. Instead of attempting to think outside the box, the artist is thinking about the box.
Enright encourages the viewer to ponder the meaning of these race and ethnicity questions, and he urges everyone, including undocumented persons, to complete the 2020 Census since the results will determine congressional representation and billions in federal funding every year for the next decade.
About the artist:
Nicky Enright is an artist, educator, and DJ whose multimedia work explores the construction of identity and nationhood, language, and the theory and practice of borders. Enright has been presented and exhibited at NYC venues including Rush Arts, Smack Mellon, the Bronx Museum, and numerous art fairs in NY and Florida, the Kennedy Center and the Museum of the Americas in Washington D.C., and the Emerson Gallery Berlin in Germany. He has executed numerous public commissions, including for the MTA Arts & Design (NYC), and for the Smithsonian and NASA, in Washington D.C. Enright has been awarded a fellowship in socially-engaged art from A Blade of Grass foundation, and he is an apexart Global Fellow. He studied at The Cooper Union (BFA) and at Hunter College (MFA), both in New York City. Born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, he lives and works in the Bronx, NY.
This hallway exhibition is viewable from Hunter East Harlem Gallery's 119th Street windows. During COVID-19, the gallery is open for virtual visits only.