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Kareem Rahma says it feels as though he was meant to be in the Twin Cities at this precise moment.
An Egyptian-American who grew up in Mendota Heights, he has resettled in Brooklyn and built a career as an interdisciplinary creative. Rahma has worn many hats: co-founder of the Nameless Network, poet, TikTok creator, comedian, director.
He found himself back home this spring when his brother was badly injured in a car accident. When protests erupted over the police killing of George Floyd, he found a new purpose.
Rahma’s latest project, dubbed “The Revolution Will Be Televised,” may be his most poignant yet. Its title nods to American soul and jazz artist Gil Scott-Heron’s 1970 recording “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” a seminal black power anthem. Since June 2, a 120-by-100 foot projection, which loops images and video, has appeared almost nightly on the side of the Mill City Museum facing the Stone Arch Bridge.
The faces of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Stephon Clark and many others lost to police violence light up the building. On other nights, subtitled videos of Malcolm X speeches appear. Images of peaceful protesters are interwoven with scenes of police violence. As the landmark “Gold Medal Flour” sign burns red atop the building, George Floyd’s name in bold all-cap lettering fills up the side, for all of Minneapolis to see.
“My vision was to create something that would allow us to remember all of this after the protesting, and the curfew and the National Guard left,” Rahma said.
“We need to have a reminder that’s always there, that this is not over until there truly is equality – not just cops arrested, not just ‘charged with murder,’ not just even defunding the police. This is an ongoing fight, and it won’t just happen overnight.”
The idea began to form in the days after Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. After cycling through a few concepts with his Minnesota-raised friend and collaborator Lucas Shank, Rahma put out a call on social media for support to make the idea come to life. Another close friend with an “engineer mind,” David Dellanave, a Minneapolis gym owner, answered. He was already setting up the rig — an auditorium projector he had sitting in his garage, a Raspberry Pi computer, a USB drive and a generator.
Floyd’s death was an “enough is enough” moment, Rahma said. “I saw the video… I’ve been to marches and I’ve been to protest and this time I knew it was going to be different.”
In less than two days, Los Angeles-based collaborators Khalil Anderson, Hayley Pappas and Smiley Stevens helped Rahma create a tribute to protestors, featuring video of the civil rights movement to contrast with images of recent protests. After some trials, the projection filled the entire northeast-facing wall of the Mill City Museum, made up of the remains of five gigantic grain elevators.
“I backed it up almost 400 feet,” Dellanave said.
From the Stone Arch Bridge, you can’t miss it. From Dellanave’s vantage point, nestled near the service road behind Mill Ruins Park, he can see people walking on the bridge and the moment they pull out their phones.
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“You see the brightness of their screen — that it caught their attention and they stopped for a few minutes and took pictures,” he said.
Dellanave said the goal is to challenge people; to make them uncomfortable and get them to think. Or, in Rahma’s words, it’s to “create a bit of mischief and a bit of nuisance and a bit of civil disobedience. Essentially, we wanted to do something illegal to keep the ball rolling, especially during the curfew.”
Jennifer Blake, a Twin Cities personal trainer, came to see the projection last Friday.
“I felt like I was bearing witness to something so moving and upsetting and necessary,” said Blake, who is white.
Imagery of protests and names of black people killed by police flashed across the building. Later, as she was leaving, Blake said she could still see the projection from the highway.
“It’s like this inescapable message,” she said.
When asked in an email for the Mill City Museum’s perspective on the projection, a representative responded, “We cannot comment on the projections because they were not coordinated with us in any way. While we support people’s right to protest and we believe in racial equity and justice, we do not have any comment on the projections in particular.” Rahma said he hasn’t been asked by the museum to take down the projection, though at this point, they know that he is behind it.
The idea appears to be spreading.
“I have people in L.A. that want to do it. I have people in New York that want to do it. I have people in Iowa that want to do it,” Rahma said.
“The Revolution Will Be Televised” project is not the first time Rahma’s work has drawn attention since his return to Minnesota a little more than a month ago. He’s been active in the protest movement since the day following George Floyd’s death. And during a time when the whole world’s eyes were on Minneapolis, Rahma captured what was happening on the ground.
One TikTok he says he put together in a few minutes now has more than 42 million views. It shows chaotic scenes from protests near the Third Precinct: a helicopter overhead, police standing in a line, a protester pouring milk into their eyes to counter tear gas.
“It’s literally about good and evil, and doing the right thing. And for me, I want to be on the side of good and I want everyone to join me. I’m just using the tools that I know how to use — whether that’s my feet on the ground or the adventurous nature I have, my Instagram account or TikTok,” Rahma said.
“My story is one of many. I think a lot of people found purpose again. It’s like ‘maktub,’ which means ‘it is written’ in Arabic. It just feels like that — that there’s a reason I’m here.”