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!
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.
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.
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.
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