The Art of Protest
Updated: Sep 6
"Art speaks where words are unable to explain" a quote by Threadless Artist Mathiole that very accurately describes what many artists across the Nation are feeling in these current times. As an artist myself I understand the feeling of needing to do something and channel it into a piece of art. Whether that art is writing, poetry, sculpture, play writing, or painting.
Art is a way for us to take our pain and fear and channel it into something that makes sense. People who see the art see the image and then maybe they can feel the message. Artists leave their feelings embedded into that piece of art. Much like the dancer who leaves it all on the dance floor or a singer who leaves it all on stage.
In Oakland California, there have been countless protests against racism and the police killing black people in disproportionate numbers. Some of those protests turned into riots and looting. The city responded with putting up boards over the windows of city bindings. Business owners followed suit. There are now hundreds of murals that have been thrown up by artists. There are more going up every day. The murals have been coined by many as "Plywood murals". The content of the murals varies. Some are pure protest art with clear cut messages. They offer in-your-face messages about the black community and the fight for justice.
Other murals around the city are memorials. There are faces of the murdered everywhere. Most memorials bring color, flowers, and butterflies or birds. I believe they are visual incarnations of the pain this community is feeling in real-time. The painful images are hard to look at and they invoke sadness.
A number of murals solely offer beauty and color. It seems to be an attempt at breaking away from the heavy political and racial messages in other murals. Maybe even striving for the message of one being proud in their blackness and in the strength and beauty of the black community. These types of murals invoke beauty and hope. These contrasting ideas and feelings are existing simultaneously.
I don't think anyone expected there to be an art explosion, but the art has become another voice in the movement. The pieces are archives and they are representations of a very important moment in time.
Oakland is a city that is being heavily gentrified and black and brown people are being pushed out. It's a city where violent police tactics and economic disparities are all that exist for the brown folks. Oakland is also a proud community full of artists! In a way, these murals taking over downtown are a take back of Oakland in a time where we all feel so out of control and so vulnerable. Even if it is only for a moment. It is powerful to see black and brown images of strength and unity. It gives us the fuel we need to keep fighting for change. It gives us the ammunition we need to keep up the fight for justice.
The racism and intolerance that is exposing itself daily has been overwhelming for me. The death of black and brown men, women, and children is an ugly and constant reminder that our lives indeed don't matter. For me, art has been my diary. Art is my voice at those times when my voice hurts from screaming. Painting is the way I can express my feelings without having to speak them. Painting allows my feelings to crawl up from the deep recesses of my subconscious and heal me in a way I didn't know I needed. Saying that my painting is cathartic is an understatement. My art, at the very least, is a life raft...a sort of resuscitation device.
My husband and I decided to join the masses and throw up a piece in Downtown Oakland. I wanted to bring beauty and bring a focus to the lives of black women. I feel that black women are often left out of the narrative in the fight for justice. In my painting I included flowers and a beautiful black female face. I included messages of "Listen to black women" and "say her name". My husband and I were deeply moved by Elijah McClain's murder because Elijah reminds us of our middle son. The way Elijah described himself to police saying he was different. That he would never hurt a fly and that he doesn't eat meat. Our son is the same kind-hearted soul. That hit home for us in a very deep way. It was important for my husband to memorialize Elijah. It is important that Elijah is humanized through my husband's art. He kept his piece simple focusing on Elijah's words and the fact that he was a violinist therefore incorporating the music notes in his piece.
Art can be used as a weapon. Art can be the ultimate form of rebellion. I think I can speak for all artists when I say those boarded up windows allowed us to display what is inside and desperately needs to be released. These murals allowed us to escape that trapped feeling we feel when we read headlines or look at Facebook and see that someone else has been senselessly murdered. We were able to get up and get out and display our feelings instead of being buried by them. We can show our creativity as we fight against white supremacy and state sanctioned violence. For a lot of us art saves our life. Thank you, artists. Thank you, art.
Check out my YouTube video on this subject and see some amazing art!