Artist Gets Arrested After Locking Himself in a Cage to Protest Mass Incarceration

The performance piece comes as part of a rising wave of protest art.

Artist Lech Szporer in the Cage Project.Photo Hannes Charen, via the Cage Project.
Artist Lech Szporer in the Cage Project.
Photo Hannes Charen, via the Cage Project.

“Hello my name is Lech Szporer,” read the card. “This is an art performance. Nothing against you but the system needs to change. I’m not talking without my attorney.” Handcuffed, wearing an orange jumpsuit and locked in a cage, Szporer occupied a Lower Manhattan intersection recently, in a performance-protest about the American justice system.

He was promptly arrested.

“I am staging this disruption because the scandal of mass criminalization, incarceration, and neglect in America is horrific, inhumane, and an issue of grave urgency,” the artist writes in a press statement.

The Cage Project took place on Sunday, just outside the Manhattan Detention Complex, aka The Tombs, at Center and White Streets. Police soon showed up and sawed their way through the sealed cage.

Artist Lech Szporer in the Cage Project.<br>Photo Hannes Charen, via the Cage Project.

Artist Lech Szporer in the Cage Project.
Photo Hannes Charen, via the Cage Project.

The artist has inside knowledge of the justice system, having been detained numerous times, by his own account, after taking part in public demonstrations. The artist told the Creators Project that incarceration also has resonance with his family, since his grandfather was sent to a gulag and his grandmother to a concentration camp.

The action recalls a work by Taiwanese artist Tehching Hsieh, who locked himself in a cage for a year, starting in 1978, while an earlier work in which Szporer canoed the East River, traveling around Riker’s Island, is reminiscent of the aquatic adventures of Brooklyn artist Duke Riley.

The performance and subsequent arrest take place in the context of an increasing intermingling of art and protest culture, especially since the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement following the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, last August.

Artist Lech Szporer in the Cage Project.<br>Photo Paloma Mele, via the Cage Project.

Artist Lech Szporer in the Cage Project.
Photo Paloma Mele, via the Cage Project.

Szporer is also the co-founder of the non-profit organization Give Kids Your Instruments, which aims to augment music and arts education for young people in low income areas.

You can check out his work yourself at his upcoming show, “Burial for the Rebellion: Studies in Post-Criminality,” opening December 16th at New York’s Y Gallery.


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