PHOTO BY: Livie Hall
The sound of stone grinding against cement in almost perfect rhythm is heard around campus as junior Vaughn Davis walks to his classes. The grinding echoes as a 28 pound cinder block awkwardly trails behind him.
Davis looks left, right, then left again before crossing Edgar Road. He reaches behind him and grabs what looks like a chained leash. The chain attaches his right leg to the cinder block, and he sweats as he drags it wherever he goes.
“I’ve been researching performance speeches in solidarity with the issues that have been going on, mainly worldwide,” Davis said. “Racism. I’m attempting to visually show the weight a black student carries with them, or any student of color, on a daily basis.”
As Davis walks, the cinder block does not easily obey. It catches on the lip between two sidewalk tiles and he yanks the weight until it finally succumbs.
On the second day of his four-day endeavor, Davis found a helper. Junior Sean Peterman, a fellow art student, said he saw Davis in the art building working on ceramics.
“I walked into a room and I saw Vaughn with this chain and this brick on his leg and it made me smile,” Peterman said. “I knew this was something that would just get to people, make them think about things.”
Peterman said he did not immediately think the performance art was about race. He said everybody has struggles and he would want some help himself, so why not return the favor. Whether Peterman is able to help or not, Davis still has two more days left.
At Webster, Davis said there are a lot of great, kind people. While the feedback he has received has been both positive and negative, he said he is happy his art is creating conversation. He is hearing positive feedback to his face, but knows the negatives have been solely on social media.
“[The negative remarks] are speaking to colorblind racism. Colorblind racism is the idea that we believe that we don’t see color, that we are in a post-racial world, that everything is alright,” Davis said.
Davis said he never expected his art to get as much attention as it has, and he has welcomed the positive words from students on campus. Come next week, the cinder block and chain will come off and he will continue walking to every class, still pulling the weight, he said.
However, it is not just about racism. Davis said anybody could find something to represent what is holding them back and weighing them down.
Physically, Davis said he is tired, and that is where Peterman swooped in to help. Peterman said even though he should be doing schoolwork at the moment, he would rather help his friend carry his weight. It is on the rougher days you need to help somebody, he said. He has known Davis for a few years and when Peterman saw what he was doing, he knew it was something special.
“This is something he’s doing for society, and it just instantly filled me with joy,” Peterman said.
If Peterman sees Davis struggling tomorrow, he said he will help him again. Mentally, Davis needs no assistance. He said the piece is about the world, not just one group of people. It is about everyone that needs help and people do not have enough conversations about the reason behind what he is doing.
“I love conversations with people. I love to challenge people’s minds and vice-versa,” Davis said. “I want people to challenge my beliefs.”
After the first hour, Davis said his leg was somewhat sore and he was a bit tired, but felt fine otherwise. So fine, in fact, that he plans to do this until Wednesday before Thanksgiving break starts. He said he is acting as one and not as a form of protest.
Davis walks away with Peterman right at his side, carrying the block. The chain rattles with each movement he makes.
Davis said people have been taking pictures and videos of him, just in the two days since he began. He continues on, either with the block dragging loudly behind him, or with the help of his friend.
“On a day-to-day basis, you can probably handle your own struggles, but that one day [where others are struggling], those are the days you need to help somebody,” Peterman said.