After the tragic events of last week, when George Floyd a black man from Minnesota suffocated to death after a white police officer named Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. This sparked a wave of protests in the US and around the world and serves as a reminder that racism continues to be an international emergency.
We are seeing public protests against racism, with the Black Lives Matter movement organising marches, speeches, and drawing up petitions. The killing sparked global outrage as people from around the world took to social media to protest against racial injustices.
We reflect on the way visual art and protest meet.
To protest is to express strong objection and disapproval.
Anonymous graffiti artist and high-profile activist Banksy, famous for his street-art which attacks the core of current affairs and social injustices, is known for speaking out on political issues and doesn’t shy away from controversy. Most notably was the 2018 Sotheby's auction, after the 'Girl with a Balloon' artwork self-destructed, possibly criticising the sky-high prices of his work and how art has become a commodity owned by the rich. It is no surprise then, that Banksy has responded to the current news of Floyd’s death and the larger systemic issue of racism and took to Instagram with a new painting, alongside a statement, to express his outrage.
The painting shows a scene of a vigil; a picture of a faceless black figure is framed and surrounded by flowers and candles, representing the death of yet another black person in the US. The American Flag hangs above the scene as it’s corner starts to catch alight from the flame which threatens to burn up the red and white stripes of the american flag.
Following the protests, the mayor of Washington DC commissioned a public artwork in the city. In giant yellow letters, BLACK LIVES MATTER has been painted down a busy street leading southward towards the White House. The message is unmissable and can be easily read by aerial cameras.
The bright yellow bold text is visually similar to the giant installations and billboards by mass-media artist Barbara Kruger, an artist whose powerful imagery transforms cultural motifs into socially critical images. Kruger's work is volatile, political, and destabilising. It speaks truth on politics, society, and gender and is deliberately subversive.
In the 1980s and 90s, the AIDs epidemic was the most visible threat to life in the USA. The pop-artist Keith Haring passionately and openly campaigned about AIDS awareness in his work. Haring had been diagnosed with the disease himself, and later died from AIDS-related complications. In 'Ignorance = Fear', the motif of the three monkeys of myth are referenced; see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil. Precisely because of that, evil, in the shape of AIDS, was able to plague society. Haring also designed a poster for the anti-nuclear demonstrations held throughout the U.S. during 1986.
Art has the power to speak about issues in an honest way, and questions ideas about equality, society and public misconceptions. These artist's in particular can all be described as activists as they use their art to motivate and inspire change.
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