Art Of The Chicago Black Lives Matter Protests
Although the summer’s explosive Black Lives Matter reckoning on race and equity in America has mellowed through the fall months, the activism and organizing which constitutes the BLM movement continues daily. And the conversations which began in the last few months are no less critical to the country going forwards.
If anything, as we head into 2021 having hurtled past 200,000 dead from the coronavirus, and close in on a looming crisis of eviction, it may be more important with each passing day.
For many of us, as we are called back to work, school, or other responsibilities, it becomes harder to show up and physically participate in protests, workshops, or actions. However, being an active part of your community can take many forms. Whether it is donating money, food, days-off, or reading up on critical race theory, or cold-calling for local political candidates after work, or any number of other things, we all have to remain plugged in and learning through our choices and actions.
We can also make sure to support local artists, and to buy their work. Artists are storytellers, and are critical for understanding the ramifications and shape of unfolding historical events. They put happenings into a proper context and help us to see connections that may have previously been invisible.
Art about the Black Lives Matter upheaval of the summer is educational, emotional, raw, and still in process. This list is a small one, and covers mostly large, ambitious murals or projects undertaken in Chicago around this subject. We hope that it will inspire a personal deep dive into more of the amazing art of the summer!
Boarded Up Chicago: Storefront Images Days After The George Floyd Protests by Christopher and Zachary Slaughter
This is a unique entry on this list, because it is a book which compiles the spontaneous street art which sprung up on boarded-up storefronts all over the city. The book is a product of love by a father-son duo, who drove throughout the city after the outset of the George Floyd protests taking photos. Zachary Slaughter, a teen from suburban Flossmoor, bought a camera with his eighth-grade graduation money last spring. After protests erupted in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, Zachary’s dad Christopher had the idea to drive around and take pictures of the art which was popping up on plywood all across the city.
For Zachary and his dad, the experience was a way to get out of the house safely and bond. Over the hours of driving around and taking photographs, they had heavy conversations about race, protest, politics, and art. Zachary is interested in photography as well as drawing, and wanted to immortalize the incredible outpouring of community art from the beginning of the summer. Somewhere along the way on the drive, the two realized how important the visual record they were creating was. These sheets of plywood, lovingly painted on, would soon be taken down and most likely thrown away. They had an opportunity to make this ephemeral art permanent by compiling a record of these creations and artworks. By making these photos into a book and selling it, they could share this moment with the world.
Black and Blue 2020 – Bria Corranda
This piece by IPaintMyMind Permanent Collection artist Bria Corranda is a powerful visual record of the events of the summer. It’s a simple composition, with a lot of resonance: a black man sits at a table, looking exhausted. His elbows rest on the table, hands clasped together in a fist or resistance or as if he is pulling a trigger. Behind him, a blue circle becomes a halo, a target, or the sun. The most haunting part of the image is the man’s expression. In Black and Blue 2020, this tired, angry man does not look down at the table. His eyes are not closed. Instead he gazes out at you from between his arms, implicating the viewer in the events of the present moment. No one can check out, pretend that they don’t know what’s going on, or what needs to change. Maybe that was possible in years before this, but 2020 is different. Inaction is not acceptable.
It’s a complicated narrative, but it describes what artist Bria Corranda feels about the Black Lives Matter protests of the summer. In an interview with IPMM earlier this fall she said of the piece, “I think that resonated with me, the movement, and just what’s going on; the feeling of being tired, being angry, being afraid of walking in our neighborhoods because some people who vowed to serve and protect, can very well look at us as targets.” There’s exhaustion and fear here, but there’s also the hope that she feels simultaneously. The circle behind the man can be a symbol of rebirth and catalytic change. It stands for the overwhelming outpouring of support, resources, mutual aid, and empathy that characterizes the uprising of the summer.
I Am A Man – Darius Dennis, Robin Alcantara, Ephraim Gebre, Jared Diaz
This mural is an homage to the iconic cultural images of the Memphis Sanitation Workers Union on strike in 1968. The mantra “I am a man,” affirms the sovereignty and identity of Black men in an America that constantly questions it. The roots of this slogan go much further back than the 1968 strike, however, harkening to early American abolitionists and the Dredd Scott case in 1857. In a country where being a man supposedly endows you with inalienable rights and civil liberties, the question is a pertinent and politically consequential one.
The 2020 iteration of this slogan is drawn from an image of Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral, after he was assassinated in Memphis. Spearheaded by Darius Dennis, and collaborated on with Robin Alcantara, Ephraim Gebre, and Jared Diaz, the mural stands 30-ft tall at the intersection of Milwaukee, Wood, and Wolcott. Visible from the Blue Line, it is highly public and accessible. It also marks the beginning of a longer collaborative project between these artists, as they plan to recreate the Wicker Park mural at various locations around the city.
Black and Brown Unity – Tubs Zilla, Dred Ske, Sentrock, Cujo, Milton Coronado, Statik and Nikko Washington
This mural was an incredible piece of art, and became a microcosmic view into tensions within the Black Lives Matter movement. Ideated by Tubs Zilla, and brought into the world through careful collaboration with 6 other Black and Latinx street artists, Black and Brown Unity was a massive undertaking. Spanning the walls of a viaduct on Damen Avenue, the composition included a portrait of Breonna Taylor, anticolonial Mexican hero Benito Juarez, and images of the Black and Latinx Chicago communities coming together.
The mural came at a poignant time for Chicago, as the week’s events had been marred by hostility and violence towards protestors in some predominantly Latinx neighborhoods. The piece is a response to those events as well as the general reality of antiblack racism emanating from segments of the Latinx community. The relationships between different communities of color in America are complicated, and are heightened in Chicago, a city of ever-present segregation, scarce resources, and poverty which is often distributed along racial lines.
This is obviously a simplification of a very complex issue, but it is an attempt to explain why the mural Black and Brown Unity was painted over in the middle of the night, less than 12 hours after its completion. Although it isn’t known who painted over the piece, both the city and Metra, who owned the bridge, said that they weren’t responsible. The message of the mural obviously struck a nerve with someone, and was destroyed. However, the artists didn’t give up. They started a GoFundMe to help kickstart future unity murals across the city. They painted their first of this new series in Pilsen, a few months later. It’s still standing!
Black Trans Lives Matter – Bailey, Molly Costello, Joycelyn Wynter, Grae Rosa and Monica Trinidad, Chi N. & Yo Y., Jes Scheinpflug, Mary Fedorowski, Adam Polak, Tiffany Favers, Ivan Vazquez., Laura Kaucher, Daniel, Owen Karcher, Melisa & Elisa, Alex Mendez, Touly Phiachantharath, Sam Kirk, Tattianna Howard, Shala., and Renisha James
This mural was an effort undertaken by the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce. They selected 21 artists to work on the mural, painting each letter of the words “Black Trans Lives Matter” in different styles. The artists were from diverse backgrounds and came together to form this community effort. It was in conversation with BLM art and murals popping up around the city, but focused on black trans people as a way to bring more attention to the less publicized dimension of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Although the impetus for the summer’s protests was the murder of George Floyd, the movement evolved week by week. The murder of black trans women became a central issue in the activism of the summer, an issue existing at the intersection of racism and transphobia. Black trans women have the lowest life expectancies of all Americans, and are likely to experience violent discrimination in public spaces. In these situations, many cases are not investigated or prosecuted. Black-trans-focused marches, vigils, and murals started popping up around the country, as more and more focus was placed on the treatment of black trans folks in America.
Chicago Protests: A Joyful Revolution – Vashton Jordan Jr.
A 21-year-old college student, Vashton Jordan Jr. caught dozens of this summer’s protests on camera. He took over 17,000 photos, documenting the whole range of emotions in the context of protest and racial reckoning. He compiled about 100 of them in this book, Chicago Protests: A Joyful Revolution. Jordan wanted to express something often unsaid in the recounting of Black Lives Matter protest and civil unrest: that so often, the prevailing emotion in these situations is joy and collective imagining. His images capture an angle not represented on the news, emphasizing the bonds of community, empathy, and collective care.
This book is a healing one, and is full of inspiration for a city that feels disjointed, angry, and concerned about a future that seems dark in the present moment. Chicago has always been a collaborative, political city, whose stark issues provoke imaginative solutions. Jordan’s book reminds us of the possibilities inherent in the city, and of the growth that is possible. There is a long way to go, but the future is as bright as these images.
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