Racial justice protests and Covid anxieties have helped inspire a wave of murals and public art. But the colorful scenes bring controversy, too.
From Liza Weisstuch, via Bloomberg
Since August, a steady stream of cars has been pulling into a parking lot next to a downtown Spokane office building. Passengers get out to snap masked selfies in front of a freshly painted Black Lives Matter mural, with each letter filled in by a different local artist.
It’s a scenario that would have been hard to envision in June, when self-proclaimed militia members dotted Spokane’s downtown streets in response to Black Lives Matter demonstrations. “The sheer outpouring of support was beyond anything I could have ever imagined,” says Ginger Ewing, executive director of the arts nonprofit Terrain, who spearheaded the mural project. “I’m watching people take 45 minutes or an hour going to each letter, having conversations — parents talking with their kids. I actually think that post-pandemic it’s going to continue to be a gathering space for people to come and have necessary, hard conversations.”
The impact of the mass movement against racial injustice that swept the U.S. after the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd in May is just beginning to be seen and felt in policy changes and election results. But the movement has already left vivid physical marks on cities, via a wave of street art: Since a now-iconic mural dedicated to Floyd appeared on a wall near the Minneapolis street corner where he was killed, racial justice-themed paintings, messages and portraits proliferated in towns and cities across the United States, and beyond. Tributes to George Floyd emerged in places as far-flung as Karachi, Pakistan; Idlib, Syria; Nairobi, Kenya; and Athens, Greece.
Among the most influential works from these protests: The 50-foot, visible-from-space yellow letters spelling “Black Lives Matter” that Washington D.C., painted on the asphalt near Lafayette Square, just hours after the Trump administration used tear gas to clear protesters in June. That act inspired scores of similar pop-up road murals bearing similar messages in scores of cities, including downtown Raleigh, Tulsa’s historic Greenwood district and all five boroughs of New York City. In Nevada, “Black Lives Matter” was spelled out in tire tracks across four miles in Black Rock Desert, close to the Burning Man site.
Particularly poignant is the mural that Prairie View A&M University students created under the supervision of the School of Architecture’s dean, Ikhlas Sabouni. It marks the stretch of road where police arrested Sandra Bland, a Black woman, in 2015 during a pretextual traffic stop. She was later found hanged in her jail cell.