Art at its best is not always only about the artist’s own self-expression, as powerful as that is. Sometimes the power comes from the artist’s gift for expressing that self on behalf of the culture, and reflecting us back to ourselves at a higher level of insight. This is a time of collective anger and grief, of volatile, complex emotions and fresh calls to action, and our progress must be rooted in an honest conversation — no matter how uncomfortable— about what is happening and what is at stake.
At moments of profound societal change such as this, a further gift of the artist is to offer us tools to conceive and imagine the terms of badly needed structural change. When powerful issues, histories, fears and hopes are on the move, art can bridge gaps of language, terminology, entrenched positions and unconscious biases and give form to what can be difficult to articulate but is nevertheless deeply felt. Whether serving as education for those who resist change, inspiration for those who persist in the face of violence and oppression, or a document for the future to access the texture of this time in history, artists are among the most valuable voices in a truly just society.
Here is a selection of some of the most compelling work being put out there this week, especially through the IG platform. Honorific commemorative portraits of George Floyd from the saintly to the heroic, clever, and eulogistic by Otha “Vakseen” Davis III, Patrick Martinez, Chad Robertson, and Carlos Rolón (who has made a high-res download available for distribution and marching with).
A new GIF of the 2018 work “Blue Love” by Lorna Simpson expressing the power of the focused, engaged mind. A tribute to the last terrible moments of Floyd’s life made from collaged pages of Luke Cage, Cloak and Black Panther stories, by Isaac Brynjegard-Bialik.
Calida Rawles and Diedrick Brackens have teamed up on a project supported by Various Small Fires to offer limited edition posters of a pair of their works in exchange for proof of donation to progressive activist and protester-support funds. Miles Regis channels the fierce organic energy of the diverse crowds of protesters into a street scene that is both hopeful and fraught, simply titled “America.”
And the radiant architect, designer, illustrator, children’s book author and 2016 White House Innovators of Color Fellow Nikkolas Smith reinterprets an indelible work of photojournalism in his classic, soulful and evocatively painterly style. Look closely, be inspired, seek out and amplify these and other voices, and take care of each other.