Pope.L began a series of street performances—which he called crawls—in the late 1970s. His aim was to address division and inequality in New York City; he wanted to “do a work that didn’t require language, it just required an action.”

In 1991, wearing a business suit and holding a potted flower, he crawled military-style along the perimeter of Tompkins Square Park in the East Village. The park had been a site of riots that involved the homeless population that took shelter there, squatters, activists, and the police.

By “giving up his verticality” during his crawls, Pope.L prompted spectators to direct their gaze downward, drawing attention to the displaced and historically disenfranchised people who exist in vulnerable positions on the street and in society. His suit underscored the deep rift between aspirations of upward mobility and the absence of opportunity that confronts many Americans.

We traveled around New York City with Pope.L to revisit the sites of his performances, including Tompkins Square Park.

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