Marking the tenth anniversary of the 2011 riots, a new project delves into the pathology, history and underlying drivers of English civil unrest in the digital age. The augmented reality piece can be accessed by scanning QR codes on posters in London, Liverpool, Bristol, Manchester and Birmingham.
Baff Akoto, a Ghanaian-UK artist and filmmaker, said “I’m not making this just for the art crowd. Digital public art can, and should, reach further.” ‘Up:Rise’ includes archive footage and testimonies from the rioters to explore the revolutionary way they communicated through encrypted messaging on Blackberry phones.
“Whether it’s the now ubiquitous mobile and digital technologies central to our everyday lives, or how technology and social networks have accelerated and amplified movements like #MeToo, the school strikes for climate change or marching for Black Lives in the face of fatal police violence, the seeds of modern mainstream discourse in this country can all be identified in the complex social and structural elements which combined to cause the unprecedented nationwide spread of rioting in 2011,” explained Akoto.
Dubbed “the first uprisings of the digital era”, the 2011 riots are now considered some of the biggest in modern English history. Over the course of five days the police reported five deaths, more than 3,000 arrests, and an estimated £200 million of damage. The protests across several English cities were initially peaceful following the police shooting of 29-year-old Mark Duggan in Tottenham.
“Nobody had ever seen anything like that sort of violent explosion in the streets, organised through their digital lives,” recalled Akoto. At the time, the riots were widely reported as the senseless sacking and looting of property by anarchic youths. Akoto’s project critically re-examines the events, taking into account the impact of social deprivation and racial animosity.
“There is a history of disenfranchised people rising up in this country to riot repeatedly through history. That’s why I don’t see 2011 as an isolated moment; the deep-seated underlying factors which fuelled those moments are still here,” remarked Akoto.
The ground-breaking project is accompanied by a series of community workshops and talks at The Bernie Grant Arts Centre in London, The Bluecoat and FACT in Liverpool, and the BOM centre in Birmingham.
‘Up:Rise’ exhibits virtually nationwide from August 6th 2021.