Finding meaning in the death of George Floyd through protest art left at the site of his murder

Finding meaning in the death of George Floyd through protest art left at the site of his murder

PHOENIX – For months after George Floyd was killed by police in May 2020, people from around the world traveled to the site of his killing in Minneapolis and left signs, paintings and poems to commemorate the man whose death sparked a movement. against systemic racism.

Now hundreds of those artifacts are on display for the first time outside of Minnesota, giving viewers elsewhere the chance to engage with the emotionally raw art of protest and mourn Floyd and other black Americans killed by police.

“It’s different than seeing it on TV,” said Leah Hall of Phoenix, who brought her two young children to the exhibit that opened this month at the Arizona State University Museum of Art. “It’s an important part of history that they don’t learn in school,” Hall said, adding that she was unable to fly to Minneapolis to honor Floyd’s life.

“Twin Flames: The George Floyd Uprising from Minneapolis to Phoenix” features about 500 artifacts that protesters and mourners left at the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, where Floyd was killed. It is the largest collection of work from the crucifixion ever to be on public display.

Floyd’s paintings and poems about him written on poster board stand on easels throughout the exhibition. Signs made of recycled paper and cardboard saying “Justice 4 Floyd” and “Enough is Enough” cover the walls.

The heavy themes of the words and images on display contrast with the arrangements of fake flowers and glowing white, battery-powered candles that evoke the vigil held in Minneapolis after his death.

What’s on display in Phoenix is ​​just a fraction of the thousands of objects under the care of the George Floyd Global Memorial, an organization that also cares for the living memorial at the intersection where he died, which remains closed to traffic.

Many of the objects appear to have been written or drawn hastily. It conveys the urgency with which people felt the need to express their anger and grief after seeing the eyewitness video that captured the moment before he died, said Jeanelle Austin, director of the George Floyd Global Memorial.

Some recent visitors to the exhibition were moved to tears.

Organizers of the exhibit say their goal was to create a space for understanding and civil discourse, and potentially stimulate collective action against police violence and other systemic inequities in the US.

“We have always dealt with social and political work in the museum. Throughout time, art and protest have gone hand in hand, and this (exhibit) really aligns with our mission to focus creativity in art in service of social good,” said Brittany Corrales, a curator at the museum who helped facilitate of those who organized the exhibit.

Organizers also see the exhibit as an opportunity to examine the history of museums in America by looking at the inequities faced by black Americans and other marginalized communities.

“Bringing this here to the Phoenix metropolitan area, at Arizona State University, is important because there is a history of police violence that is here that goes back to the early 20th century,” said Rashad Shabazz, a professor university and board member at ASU’s Center for Labor and Democracy, which funded the exhibit and brought the artifacts to Arizona.

The exhibit draws direct parallels between Minneapolis and Phoenix, where a black man named Dion Johnson was fatally shot by an Arizona state trooper the same day Floyd was killed. The George Floyd Global Memorial hopes to bring the exhibit to other cities after it leaves Phoenix in July, but there are no plans yet.

A Phoenix resident who visited the exhibit last week said it will resonate far beyond the United States. “This is not just an American problem,” said Charm Abella, who lived in Spain in 2020 and remembers protests that reached around the world.

Other museums around the country are also delving into themes explored at the ASU Art Museum.

In Louisville, Kentucky, the Speed ​​Art Museum last year honored the life of Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police officers there after they broke into her home in March 2020. The exhibit, the second at the museum to focus on in Taylor’s life, prominently featured a portrait of Taylor created by Amy Sherald, the artist who painted Michelle Obama’s portrait for the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC

The exhibit spoke to the idea that artists of color can use portraiture to spark conversation and potentially action, said Raphaela Platow, the museum’s director. “What’s important to us is that we continue to have ongoing conversations about the issues we’re facing as a community, from police brutality to racial segregation to systemic oppression,” Platow said.

Previous art exhibitions in Arizona that were critical of police officers drew local condemnation.

An art exhibit at the Mesa Arts Center in Arizona drew city ire in September for planning to display signs against police brutality that could be considered offensive to city employees because of the explicit language.

But Twin Flames organizers stressed the importance of facing hard truths. “Our goal is to be able to create spaces that remind people that the work is not over,” said Austin, the director of the George Floyd Global Memorial.

Floyd’s family members who visited the exhibit last week were deeply moved.

Floyd’s aunt, Angela Harrelson, who traveled from Minneapolis, said upon entering the museum she felt “overwhelmed, but in a good way.”

“I looked at all the art that people meticulously cared for and took time to decide,” she said. “It was focused with so much love and passion.”

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