Street art can be some of the best commemoration for things we need to remember.
By the Thursday after George Floyd’s death on a Monday, a group of artists were painting a mural on the wall of the Cup Foods store very near where he died. You’ve probably seen it in news coverage from Minneapolis. It’s a predominantly yellow and blue mural with an image of Floyd’s face in the center, flanked left and right by his name. In the yellow letters of his name are individuals rendered in light blue minimalisticaly with fists raised in solidarity. The background is an enormous sunflower, in the heart of which are names of people who have suffered a fate similar to that of Floyd. The choice
of colors alone is magnificent. The perspective the artists use to pull your eye repeatedly to Floyd’s face works perfectly. It’s one of the most striking painted images I’ve seen in a long time and it reflects a deep understanding of what good art can do.
Xena Goldman, Greta McLain, and Cadex Herrera created the mural to give the community a place to mourn. Herrera said that “I hope, at least, some peace can come from this, to reflect on the life of a human being that was unnecessarily taken away.” Photos of the mural have been shared around the world, and other murals have been appearing everywhere.
In Little Rock, Arkansas a veritable explosion of street art has appeared along 7th Street just west of the state capitol building. Jose Hernandez, one of the local artists who first painted Floyd’s likeness on the wall said when Floyd was killed he felt frustrated and didn’t know what to do. Then it hit him: “I felt like I had to paint something. It was like a need, an escape, and also a way of giving back.” He did what artists do automatically.
As he worked, other artists approached him wanting to contribute, and soon several artists were enlivening a space with some substantive new art. The Little Rock newspaper said the site has become a “place not for protests but for introspection.”
In Austin, artist Chris Rogers painted a mural of George Floyd on East Fourth street. “First and foremost with this mural what I’d like to communicate is unity,” he said. “Unity in conjunction with honesty.” The conversations he’s had with people who stopped by to watch him work have encouraged him that he’s contributing to both.
Around the world, murals featuring George Floyd’s image are appearing in places from Syria to Dublin to Barcelona.
Why is this? For one thing we live in an era of instant worldwide visual communication with individual people choosing what gets transmitted. Another more crucial element however is the ability of art to express the otherwise unexpressable and to do so across boundaries that we sometimes think of as impermeable. That’s why, in times of crisis, art is even more worth our time and attention.