Black Lives Matter Protests:
On the 25th of May, George Floyd was murdered by police officers in Minneapolis, USA. The murder was captured on camera by an onlooker, which was uploaded and, just like the protests and movement that ensured, spread across the world like a wildfire. What started locally as a response to yet another in a long line of countless black men and women killed by police brutality in Minneapolis, a city that had historically been the subject of a variety of police reform programs, became a worldwide protest against legacies and systems of racism and oppression.
In a matter of weeks, every state in America and over 60 countries would have seen protests against the persistent legacy of racism and white supremacy. Despite the UK government and Boris Johnson's self-preservation and denial of the colonial legacy, "the UK is not innocent" - as the London protests would say.
Outside of the personal/individual work that has been and continues to be done, nothing felt more urgent than to contribute humbly and effectively to the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement. There have been a couple reasons why this seemed a welcome but necessary obligation outside of basic humanity and duty, which will be outlined below:
CNN, Graphite on paper, 2020.
As explain in the Arc, the Black Lives Matter protests would be subject to the same media and governmental propaganda seen at use in the pandemic. In many ways the socio-political injustices exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic are merely a continuation of the structural racist supremacy that the BLM movement seeks to confront. As such, it seemed entirely necessary to apply the same lens to the government and media's treatment of BLM.
Secondly, the protest cries against police brutality and for the gradual defunding of police departments are representative of an abolitionist theory that I had been fortunate enough to have exposure to prior to this movement.
While to me it is absolutely vital - as a white man from the Caribbean - to humbly follow radical black leadership in every space of the movement, it feels just as important to use the preceding facts, along with the positionality of being an artist, to contribute protest art.
At the time of writing this there have been three pieces finished, and contributed to the protests in various ways - whether through sale and donation of all proceeds to bail/freedom funds for arrested protestors, given to collectives engaged in revolution, or simply by disseminating the images and catalyzing conversation and confrontation with opposing views.
One titled, CNN, is an amalgamation of protestors from various cities in the US hijacking and claiming a giant sculpture outside of the CNN Headquarters. The aesthetics of protest art have always involved imagery that is unambiguous. This was one of the driving notions behind all three pieces to date, whether in 1312 - where two policemen with pig ears creeping from their riot helmets pepper-spray a kneeling protester - or in New Statues - where a black ballerina raises a first of solidarity while standing atop a re-claimed colonial monument. This unambiguity is echoed in the titles of each work. As is indicated in the critical analysis of James Baldwin, we must abandon the illusion of art being apolitical and instead embrace the responsibility that entails.
The UK government is currently aiming to delegitimize protests through strategies not unlike those used against various social uprisings throughout history. Strategies that for example include what Malcolm X described as 'divide and conquer' or Martin Luther King Jr. coined in the 'outside agitator myth'. Present examples of this include Secretary of State Priti Patel calling those attending protests "thugs", Boris Johnson himself saying that the movement has been hijacked by "extremists", pushing legislation that would allow '10 year prison sentences' for toppling monuments that may celebrate colonialism, or the UK Police Chief claiming - "for fear of civil unrest" - that mass gatherings should be criminalized at a time when the right to protest is as important as ever.
In the drawing CNN, the viewer finds a united front of protestors responding to the propaganda of the State by surpassing and occupying the giant sculpture of the CNN logo. In 1312, we see that the first act of violence is from the police - the original slavecatchers in America and original oppressor of worker's unions in the UK.
From a critical standpoint, I am trying to continuously refine my focus within the work I contribute to activist movements, so to be more helpful and effective. For example, it is clearly not my place to try and represent or reproduce the black experience within my work. White men have been the narrators, image-makers, and historians across the board of history. While this is something I have been trying to come to terms with for years, the process of contributing art to BLM reminded me again of this fact. So I am continuing to seek ways to elevate the movement without co-opting it, finding my place within it, while also being humbly aware of the space that I may take up within it.
Practically speaking, within this series of work I actively avoided using imagery that may be appropriative and as such made an effort to focus on the abolitionist perspective to BLM. Going forward I think it is important to contribute work that is more graphic and impactful from a distance, and easily disseminated for free, to be used by others if needed. This could involve information pamphlets, protest signs, flags, or the like.
1312, Graphite on paper, 2020.
New Statues, Graphite on paper, 2020.