It was early afternoon on Saturday. People had been slowly gathering downtown near Central Avenue and Seventh Street all day in the hopes that they would run into the often publicly discussed actor and activist Shia LaBeouf.
LaBeouf was preparing for the opening of his participatory performance art piece, titled “HE WILL NOT DIVIDE US,” a protest piece in opposition to President Trump’s agenda.
The art piece covers an outside wall of the Historic El Rey Theater, with just a live-streaming camera built into the wall and the piece’s title painted around it.
It is the continuation of a previous installation that was taken down from New York City’s Museum of the Moving Image on Feb. 10. The piece was removed from the museum after several instances of violence had been reported near the piece.
LaBeouf invites the public to recite the mantra “He will not divide us” while looking into the camera as an act of “resistance or insistence, opposition or optimism, guided by the spirit of each individual participant and the community,” according to their website.
Early in the day, information about the event was mostly shared through word of mouth or on Twitter. As such, Albuquerque’s youth turned up in groups outside the theater.
Albuquerque local Logan Todd said he had met LaBeouf earlier while at work, and that LaBeouf had personally invited him to attend the event. Todd told his sister and they joined in with the crowd as they gathered around the installation.
Just before 1 p.m., LaBeouf stood before the piece and addressed the gathered crowd.
“We should start silent. Let's just all start finding a quieter spot so we can make this place have some soul. Make it a sacred space...Even if that’s some hippie shit — I f**k with it,” he said.
LaBeouf then introduced Melissa Tso, a local member of UNM Native activist group Red Nation. She would be leading the first round of chanting the piece’s title and mantra: “He will not divide us.” The crowd gradually joined in and began to chant.
Tso said she had met LaBeouf while wandering around downtown in search of the art piece. She said she began a conversation with him about her concerns for Native issues. He then invited her to take part in the event.
“Albuquerque is such a melting pot. It’s the epicenter of the Native liberation movement, alongside Standing Rock. To me that means ‘he will not divide us,’” Tso said. “Protest is the only form of action we can take to reach systemic change...It’s really nice to be blessed with this and I’m glad that Shia brought us this.”
LaBeouf, along with his partners Nastja Säde Rönkkö and Luke Turner, intend this project to be a live-streamed performance, taking place during the entire four years of Donald Trump’s presidency.
As the day went on, members of the local community continued to come and go. At one point nearly 50 people gathered around the piece’s camera, reciting the mantra as members of Red Nation stood in the center.
UNM student Andres Reza was present at the event and said he appreciated the message LaBeouf was trying to put forth.
“Shia has a good point. He’s not necessarily an anti-Trump supporter. His message isn’t hate toward different people,” he said. “I have family that are actually scared that they’re going to be taken away. It’s an awful thing. It makes me sad.”
South Valley native and local artist Marg Prettit, or “Mama Z” as she is called, said it was the first time she’d seen Albuquerque so unified.
“I keep telling everybody, don’t be afraid of this nation. The young people got it going on. They’re standing up,” she said.
The 24-hour live stream can be seen at www.hewillnotdivide.us.
Gabriela Garcia-Huff is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @theGreen_Gablin.