At the core of the widespread protests in the United States is a shocking incident, one that may seem novel to us down here in India, but is unsurprisingly common in America. From the country’s dark days of slave trading to the widespread arrests and deaths of African Americans, America has always had a racism problem.
The Black Lives Matter movement began six years ago, in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin, a 17 year-old African American from Miami, Florida who was shot dead in the street by George Zimmerman, a police officer. Zimmerman was acquitted and bore no consequences for Martin’s death. A year after, two more African-American men suffered the same fate - Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
On May 25 of this year, an African American man by the name of George Floyd was stopped in the street by the police. For eight minutes and 46 seconds, a police officer strapped his knee around Floyd’s neck, suffocating him. Floyd struggled, gasping for breath. His last words, “I can’t breathe” became a slogan of sorts for the BLM movement and a call to action for African Americans everywhere .
The BLM movement has taken to the streets once again. The BLM hashtag has retaken the internet, thanks to Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi who coined it six years ago. You’ve probably seen the BLM hashtag soaring on Instagram and Twitter in the past few days. Celebrities are participating in an Instagram-wide blackout, content-creators are choosing to post about the movement instead of posting original content and artists are using their art to speak out against the violence.
Large-scale events - revolutions, uprisings, pandemics, have had long-lasting and powerful effects on artists. Covid-19 triggered some moving pieces of art and so did the Black Lives Matter movement, through the years. In this article, The Artment takes you through BLM-inspired art that is both human and political, and provokes a multitude of thoughts.
The murals around downtown Oakland, California
Artists, community members and protesters gave voice and visuals to the BLM revolution by painting vibrant murals around downtown Oakland, California. Some of the murals pay tribute to George Floyd’s memory and others support the Black Lives Matter movement with motifs of protest. The streets have become an art gallery and a community message board, rife with colour and powerful messages.
Street artist Banksy’s latest work in support of BLM
The world-famous street artist Banksy revealed his newest work of art, a haunting painting of the American flag catching fire atop a framed black silhouette. “People of colour are being failed by the system”, wrote Banksy in an Instagram post that revealed the painting bit by bit.
His subtle yet powerful, satirical and layered depiction of the broken judicial system in America resonated with his 9.5 million Instagram followers and sparked off a charged conversation in the comments.
Black Lives Matter in big block letters across 15th Street
15th Street, Washington D.C. is now an open message to the public, reinforcing the importance and power of the Black Lives Matter movement. The pictures say it all - a carpet of fifty-foot-high letters laid across the span of three blocks that is visible from the sky.
A few weeks ago, eight artists were summoned to take on this massive and risky project. They could have faced consequences for painting on public property but the Mayor specifically requested it. So, late on Thursday, eight artists got together to begin painting the mural on a strict deadline. In the morning, more than 400 volunteers joined the group to help complete the mural.
In no time, restaurants were supplying free food and a pop-up food stall opened to serve the volunteers. What began as a city-commissioned project with eight people turned into a community art project.
Children’s book illustrator Carson Ellis’ response to the murder of Eric Garner
After police officer Daniel Pantaleo killed Eric Garner by putting him in a chokehold, he was acquitted by a grand jury’s decision. Deeply pained by the incident, American artist Carson Ellis illustrated a catalogue of unarmed African American men, women and children killed by the police since 2012.
To create this illustration, Ellis had to comb through multiple databases of police killings to find names and images of unarmed African Americans killed by the police. The process brought her to tears.
There is a certain innocence with which Ellis illustrates that reminds one of who her subjects are, and who they were when they were murdered. The illustration is child-like and haunting at the same time.Ti-Rock Moore’s neon installation on the infamous choke hold
The choke hold is a powerful arresting tactic - a move that blocks the flow of oxygen through the throat and is capable of making the recipient almost immobile. Many of the African Americans on Ellis’ catalogue have been subjected to the infamous choke hold.
Ti-Rock Moore’s fascinating art installation of neon tubes explains how society has glorified the choke hold and made it look like something heroic. The noose in the middle of the installation, dark and unlit, suggests otherwise.Andrea Levy’s unnerving Portrait of Michael Brown
In August of 2014, Michael Brown was brutally shot dead by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. His death became the centre of early BLM protests in St. Louis, unleashing a storm of public opinions about police brutality in America.
Andrea Levy’s quiet but impactful response to his death pretty much sums up the country’s racism problem. A dark, feature-less silhouette pounces out from a white background. The lack of detail in the painting shows how racism tends to strip the vulnerable African American man of all other identity. What remains is the stark black silhouette of his body as it appears to the racist mind.