100 Years of Protest Art, Part 2

100 Years of Protest Art, Part 1


Racial justice and Black identity became the focal point of Black artists in the 1960s and 70s. Many artists used the backdrop of the VietNam War as a subject of the continued protest. Theaster Gates engaged materials that speak to the history of race in the U.S. and 2011 began to use decommissioned fire hoses in his sculptures to focus attention on the terror and violence they induced in civil rights protests. As life teaches us all things are related, we can now understand how from Basquiat to Jay Z, the art world fully embraced hip hop. Everyone from the outside wanted to be on the inside too. The protest became the narrative to express disdain for being a victim of exclusion.


Colin Kaepernick became the face of the nonviolent protest that has inspired a movement against injustice and is a subject of art and illustrations in recent times. Artists Nikkolas Smith, of L.A., has become prominent in depicting George Floyd and of a lone protestor kneeling at the foot of a line of riot-gear clad police officers. His question to us is, "How much are we willing to take." Alexandra Bowman and Melissa Koby are two other artists whose name has recently identified protest art focusing on BLM or George Floyd. Ment Nelson of South Carolina, whose art usually explores the images of the Gullah-Geechee traditions, just created a painting of protests which commanded a one million dollar price tag. He will devote the proceeds to black causes. What these artists have stimulated is people's ability to think.

Ironically, murals have reemerged as the desired medium for expressing visual protest. Wall installations have also made their mark on public displays. The University of St. Thomas, Minneapolis, has embarked on a unique worldwide project of collecting digital records of the art chronicling the George Floyd protest movement. This effort serves two purposes. It preserves the images for posterity, and it demonstrates the enormity of the project.


The terrorism against George Floyd and Black Lives Matter is the narrative of the day. The world's emotional core was altered as we watched a Black man's life brutally snatched from him. The gruesomeness of the eight-plus minutes that took forever take away his breath is painted by many artists. Artists have, however, memorialized the meaning of his life. Artists have come to realize that their visual narratives have value in fighting injustice. They have an attentive audience. Viewing and sharing art have heightened interests in justice and equality.


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