Following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May, striking street art began cropping up on buildings, in alleyways, and across busy highways.
Just steps from where Floyd was killed, his face appeared on the side of a grocery store surrounded by a sunflower representing longevity and loyalty. Chicago artists worked overnight on this powerful portrait of Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed by police in her own home. In D.C., the pavement where people are marching against policy brutality has itself become part of the protest.
Without systemic change, murals are just window dressing. But artists know their collective response to police brutality can help focus attention on action that matters. We spoke to five women all over the country building solidarity with symbolism.
Georgie Nakima, Charlotte
“We created this on the 12th day of protests following the death of George Floyd. I admire the youth that has been relentlessly proving how loudly our voice echoes when we come together peacefully and intentionally. We are still only in the humble beginnings of what change and reform can look like. This art is a performance of activism that allows our city to unify a display of solidarity against the systematic oppression that holds back everyone involved.
As a Black woman living in the South there are so many layers of my identity that pulled into my inspiration. I am disappointed at the policies that our council continues to hold, despite the fact that they fringe on our rights to protest and hold our judicial department accountable for police brutality. I am disappointed that it takes another unjust murder for the world to hear our generational pain and triumph. But I am moved at how quickly my city and my community of artists and organizers have gathered. Using art as a vehicle of protest is powerful.
My narrative lives at the intersection of Blackness and Femininity in hopes to provide visual representation that I can only wish I had as a child. At an early age, quite subconsciously we are conditioned to associate Blackness with a stance of trauma, violence, and inadequacy. And while I don’t run away from the errors of law that have been used to oppress our humanity, it’s so important that I use art as a reminder that we remain uplifted, resilient, and divinely intrinsic to this life. When you see my art, you see a reflection of yourself because it carries an ancient, futuristic antidote that resonates beyond color or creed. I grew up memorizing the stories of segregation, poverty, and racism and how we somehow alchemized this into laughter, wisdom, and resource. My art navigates the synergy between color, nonconformity, and transformation on an individual and collective level.”
Sylvia Roman, Houston
“On the night of June 1, my son and I got a call from George Floyd’s friend OG MUGZ about creating this piece in George’s honor. He actually reached out to us through a direct message on Instagram. We sat down and discussed how we wanted to bring this piece to life. We decided that the wings were important to implement into the design, because it signifies protection. Now he is a guardian angel that can protect others from injustices.
The mural is located in Houston’s Third Ward, where he’s from. The people that he grew up with know him from there. Our work shows the world the necessity to have peace and respect for one another. I hope that when people see it, they feel empathy and an urgency to unite and to love one another.”
Cece Carpio, Oakland
“I’m part of an artist collective called Trust Your Struggle and business owners asked us to paint images of justice and love. So we did, the way we know how: In solidarity with Black communities here, and globally.
Oakland is a special town, because of its long history of resistance and movement. This mural was an opportunity for a cultural worker like myself to demand justice for the violent racism that we see Black people experience in this nation—and for us to take a stand and fight alongside them. It is our form of resistance. It is our voice and it is how we show radical love for our communities.”
Elaine Chu and Marina Perez-Wong, Oakland
“Initially, we wanted a message that encompassed our overarching sentiment about the issues that we and our friends and family are dealing with as POC, especially our Black extended family. We have been disturbed and disgusted with the police, the government, and the capitalists who have all protected each other for too long at the expense of Black and POC lives. We continue to try to push positive action into our designs.
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We are against all systems that continue to keep POC oppressed. It’s also important that we painted this in Oakland, home of the Black Panther Party and political activism on all fronts for marginalized peoples across the world. Artists are visual storytellers and we are painting the voice of the people protesting on the frontlines. It’s not enough to depict what has already happened. We want to honor what’s happened as well as show what actions need to be taken moving forward to give power to the people. We hope our mural inspires and uplifts viewers, especially young POC. To believe in a new world where we can break the chains of repression and systemic racism and oppression. We believe in people power.”
Chloe Becky, San Diego
“We organized a group of local artists to paint the boards to uplift the community’s spirits. I used whatever paint and supplies I had left over from previous projects, a few cans of spray paint, some house paint, and large brushes that you could find at a hardware store. A lot of people were very upset about the property damage, and I wanted to remind them that those things can be replaced.”
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