ActivismArts and CulturePoliticsSan FranciscoSF Bay Area

Massive Art Installation, Society’s Cage, Debuts in Oakland

Updated: May 14, 2022 11:26
The Bay's best newsletter for underground events & news

This week, Society’s Cage, a traveling experimental art installation about societal racism, was built in front of Oakland’s City Hall. The 15-foot by 15-foot installation, built of over 500 steel bars, hopes you will come and interact with the piece. There were four designers, as well as 8-12 people working on the assembly over three days. The social justice art installation can be experienced and seen in front of Frank Ogawa Plaza from May 9th until May 30th. This weekend, Saturday, May 14th at 11 am, there will be the official unveiling.

people roam around the cube art installation

Society’s Cage – photo from the Smithgroup website

This installation’s ability to speak columns while standing feet tall is awe-inspiring to me. The creators speak about the meaning behind the project on their website. “The resulting concept is a 15-foot by 15-foot raised pavilion consisting of nearly 500 suspended weathered steel rods that form a perfect cube, suggesting a fair and equitable societal construct. The steel bars are weathered – their color resembles the variety of melanin in the Black diaspora, and their texture represents the enduring legacy of institutional of racism is in America.”

the bars barely touch the ground of the society's cage art installation

Detail shot which showcases the meaning behind the piece – photo from the Smithgroup website

“In the aftermath of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, a team of Black architects at SmithGroup sought to contextualize these most recent acts of racialized violence in a more than a 400-year continuum, contributing to the conversation of racial injustice and using architecture to reflect the issues of racial and social justice. A public installation, in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, would elevate stories ripe for collective acknowledgment and reconciliation as a basis for educating the public and building empathy.”

Local artist Randolph Belle (right), of Support Oakland Artists, works with volunteers to build the installation in Oakland – photos from Randolph Belle

Randolph Belle, Executive Director of Support Oakland Artists, gave us an inside scoop about the project and its buildout. “The piece will be up for three weeks culminating in a programmed event on May 29th at 7 pm. My non-profit, Support Oakland Artists is hosting the piece here in Oakland. I was on a team with SmithGroup bidding on a contract here and after we were unsuccessful, one of the principals mentioned Society’s Cage. It was a no-brainer for me, so we started fundraising and now it’s here.”

“In my over 30 years in Oakland as an artist and community developer, I’ve strived to utilize the arts to engage the public in thoughtful ways around important and timely topics. This project, this site, and these times are an unprecedented example of that,” says Belle.

Society's Cage in front of City Hall

Society’s Cage in front of Oakland City Hall

Oakland is one of the perfect places for this open-air installation. It features 500 steel bars which create a dense cube with a habitable section that allows viewers to feel and experience the symbolic weight of institutional racism. This installation is immersive and allows the viewer a special opportunity to feel and consider the severity of racial biases. The unique piece provides the space for healing and moments where people can reflect as they immerse themselves in the experience.

Previously, this installation has been shown in Washington DC, Maryland, and even the site of the Vernon AME Chapel in Tulsa, Oklahoma for the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race massacre and destruction of the Greenwood District, known as Black Wall Street.  

“We were inspired to create the installation as a response to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor,” explains Dayton Schroeter, the lead designer of Society’s Cage and Design Director at SmithGroup. “The pavilion is a real and raw reflection of the conversations about racism happening now. It’s a physical manifestation of the institutional structures that have undermined the progress of Black Americans over the history of this country.”

Night photo of the installation in Washington D.C. – photo from the Smithgroup website

“The name Society’s Cage refers to the societal constraints that limit the prosperity of the Black community,” says Julian Arrington, who led the design with Schroeter, and is an Associate at SmithGroup. “The pavilion creates an experience to help visitors understand and acknowledge these impacts of racism and be moved to create change.”  

According to the project’s press release, visitors are encouraged to participate and share their experiences to start conversations which hopefully will bring empathy and also expand the impact of the installation.  “After holding their breath for as long as they can, evoking the common plea among victims of police killings, “I can’t breathe,” visitors then post a video reflection of their experience on social media using the hashtag #SocietysCage.”

Society’s Cage in Washington D.C. – photo from the Smithgroup website

On May 29th at 7 pm, there will be a programmed event featuring local cultural artists. Participating individuals and organizations include original members of the Black Panther Party, the Black Cultural Zone, HipHopTV, and a host of local artists.

For more information on the project, please visit the Smithgroup website here: Society’s Cage Experimental Installation
To participate in more projects with Randolph at Support Oakland Artists, contact them through his website

Previous post

The Fun Things to Do in Vallejo, CA

Next post

We Found SF's Hidden Ball Pit & Indoor Swing

Katy Atchison

Katy Atchison

Katy has lived in The Bay Area since the age of 3. While other kids were attending summer camp & soccer practice, she was raised selling wares at craft shows with her working artist parents and spent vacations in a small 1920s Montana log cabin. This has all given her a unique perspective on the ever-changing texture of San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area. Currently a blend of all that is The Bay Area - she's a web designer at a tech-company, artist and DIY teacher.