Fighting the power

By GREG COOK  |  June 18, 2014

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'BLACK BUFFALO JOCKEY' from "Black Indians In Space."

“My work from then forward was about a willingness to take risks,” Montford says. He exhibited photos of lawn jockeys, a sound-piece that bombarded listeners with racist slurs, and in 1992 he began doing a series of lynching performances. A haunting photo in his archive shows him under a black hood, bound by numerous nooses to a column outside Niagara University’s Castellani Art Museum in the early 2000s.

Yellow Peril screens television news footage of Montford dressed as a living cigar store Indian wearing a child’s feather headdress for a performance he did at Buffalo City Hall. He says police arrived to arrest him for standing outside the building as a living lawn jockey with a flaming torch.

“Right as they were about to do that, the news crew showed up,” Montford recalls. The TV anchorman “steps up and starts talking with me . . . Then it switches to this art thing. This guy basically saves my life and then does this really nice [TV] representation.”

The exhibition’s center is a series of new collages depicting mammy-astronauts with feathered headdresses floating in space. They feel like small gags after his fierce protests and performances. For the 62-year-old Montford, they’re a continuing exploration of the racism that remains “right there under the surface all the time . . . Very little has changed in the last 60 or 70 years. White culture has managed to create the appearance of equity. But it’s just the appearance. The power structures haven’t been affected.”

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