Over the past few days, the escalating events in the US have given us pause on what we can do to elevate the right voices in this critical time. We recognise that part of our community is hurting and it’s not okay to be silent. Black Lives Matter. Black Voices Matter. We stand in solidarity with everyone fighting for a better world and in defiance of racism.
On May 25th 2020, the world witnessed the tragic and unjust murder of George Floyd. As we collectively react with anger and exasperation for the black lives that have been lost due to police violence, and as governments continue to disappoint with their lack of accountability and action, protests have risen in cities across the US and beyond, only to be met with more state-incited violence.
The importance of elevating black voices on topics of systemic racism and state violence is more urgent than ever. These issues have been navigated and expressed by black artists for decades, evidence of the frustrating lack of change to inherently violent institutions and governmental refusal for reform.
In light of the continued violence wrought on black bodies by those who were meant to serve and protect, for George Floyd, for Trayvon Martin, for Eric Garner, for Belly Mujinga, for the thousands of lives lost and lives harmed at the hands of brutal injustice, we take a look at artists who have addressed systemic racism and police brutality through their varied practices.
For a list of resources for supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement, scroll down↓
Arthur Jafa: Love is the message, the message is death, 2016
A 7-minute film of found footage set against Kanye West’s Ultralight Beam reveals a moving work that aims to solidify black identity in America. Love is the message, the message is death by cinematographer-turned-artist Arthur Jafa is a film that centres on systemic racism and the violence too often suffered by black bodies. Watch the full video on YouTube.
Faith Ringgold: American People Series #15: Hide Little Children, 1964
Being a mother is tough enough. To be a black mother in a place where systemic racism has run rampant since its very colonial initiation is downright terrifying. In her American People Series, Faith Ringgold portrays the often deeply disturbing realities of racial tensions that surmount to violent ends. In Hide Little Children, the tension runs just as deep without an explicit overture of violence. Children’s games of hide-and-seek take on a sinister turn as Ringgold’s own children, two black faces between three white, appear from a weave of bold greens, hiding her children away in fear of cruelty that awaits them.
Lachell Workman: Justice for ___, 2014
In this installation work by Lachell Workman, a white t-shirt hangs lifelessly as the words "Justice for" is projected on a loop, refreshing every few minutes. It’s a direct nod to the repeated calls for justice in light of police brutality, highlighting the cycle of violence ad nauseam that evoked calls for justice, just to have nothing change and have the names of those who have suffered at the hands of police violence merge into anonymity.
Sondra Perry: Typhoon Coming On, 2018
Winner of the 2018 Nam Jun Paik Award and a shrewd documentarian of the relentless subjugation of black bodies throughout every aspect of American society, Sondra Perry uses technology to highlight the issues faced by black subjectivities and their relation to technology. Her exhibition Typhoon Coming On, initially shown at Serpentine Galleries in London, confronts the viewer with a historical narrative of black bodies, from the Atlantic Slave Trade to present-day police brutality.
Jean-Michel Basquiat: Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart), 1983
Jean-Michel Basquiat is notably the black artist with the highest valued art sale (his 1982 painting Untitled fetched a cool $110.5 million) but his post-mortem success is not without its ironies. Many of his works explored the disparity between the wealthy and the poor, supporting class struggle and highlighting institutional racism. His 1983 painting Defacement, also known as The Death of Michael Stewart, is an explicit display of police brutality, depicting the story of the 25-year-old Pratt student and artist who was beaten unconscious and hogtied, his brain haemorrhaged from having been choked or strangled. In light of the work Basquiat has put out, and considering the current events surrounding police brutality today, one must wonder how much the billionaires and extremely wealthy who now own his works have contributed to the cause of black liberation.
Sanford Biggers: Slimm, 2014
Sanford Biggers is a multidisciplinary artist whose time-based and sculptural works are augmented by his paintings on quilts, gifted to him by descendants of slaves. He often depicts an ominous “figure”, a faceless body reminiscent of chalk outlines that point to both a biographical element and his response to the killings of black men. Slimm, made in 2014, points to this tragedy with a fallen figure and its shadow, a possible tribute to Trayvon Martin who was killed at age 17 by a man with a violent history who was acquitted of charges. In an interview in 2016, he says of the killing of black men: "I've been very aware of them for years and I myself have been held at gunpoint by police at least three times in my life, starting from the '80s all the way up through the' 90s, and stopped and frisked on the streets of New York several times around my house near Columbia University, where I teach." 2016, Interview.
Resources for supporting the Black Lives Matter movement
If you’d like to make monetary contributions to causes that aim to protect black lives, consider Black Visions Collective, Reclaim the Block or The Bail Project. Other organisations that aim to provide practical provisions for those against police brutality include Bail Funds and Legal Help for various cities in the USA.
Educating yourself and those around you is also vital in the fight against racism. Both Hayward Market and Verso are providing free literature on race relations and police in response to current events. The New York Times’s Ibram X. Kendi has also compiled an Antiracist reading list, and other suggestions by various sources include Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge as well as this article by Rachel Cargle that explains Black Lives Matter. This document of anti-racism resources for white people is also a good place to start for those looking for a comprehensive list of literature, podcasts, films and more.
More organisations and people to follow and support:
Black Lives Matter
The Liberty Fund
I Run With Maud
American Civil Liberties Union
Stand Up To Racism UK
Ibram X. Kendi
Audre Lorde Project
Entry Level Activist
Color Of Change
The Leadership Conference
Equal Justice Initiative
We the Urban
Showing Up for Racial Justice
NO WHITE SAVIORS
Layla F. Saad
The Great Unlearn
Check Your Privilege
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