This protest installation was first used in 2016 at Standing Rock when the community banded together to protect the Missouri River from a Dakota Access Pipeline.
The mirror shields can protect against non-lethal deterrents like rubber bullets that may be used by police forces. But the project is also a form of protest art—inviting police to confront themselves and their own humanity and to discourage violence against otherwise peaceful protestors.
This project was inspired by images from a protest where a Ukrainian woman held up a glass mirror to riot police. These mirrors are different though, as they are made from safe materials.
Artist Cannupa Hanska Luger was the originator of a video tutorial explaining how to create these mirror shields. He started the project after learning about the threat to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Reservation’s water supply. He sent out an open call for participation and used his large online community to generate support during his residency at the Institute of American Indian Arts. People from across the country created and sent these mirror shields in support of the protestors.
The materials are commonly found in the household, making participation easier and affordable. One sheet of plywood can be used to fabricate 6 mirror shields. They can be produced and sent anonymously by anyone with time and passion for justice. Luger had safety at top of his mind, so the mirror's shields use reflective vinyl and no further injury will be caused to protestors or bystanders.
“I didn’t want people to bring mirrors to the front line and get hit with batons and cause more damage than good. So what we needed was a mirrored shield,” Luger said.
The shields have gone on to take on a life of their own and have been used most recently in a Black Lives Matter protest in 2020. This project showcases the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.
This form of protest art shows clearly “that art is a verb” and is “straddling the line between an art installation and practical defense equipment.”