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  • Kennedy Ferguson

Art Activism in the Black Lives Matter Movement

Updated: Mar 29, 2021

Media is one of the most important elements in capturing the life and death of police brutality victims. Not only does media relay the leading events and aftermath to the global audience, it also forms a long-lasting account that has the power to permanently engrave itself in the minds of the public.

Unfortunately, however, internalized racism oftentimes blurs the narrative. By positively and truthfully representing black victims of police brutality and the black community as a whole, creators and their visual art propel the Black Lives Matter movement forward. Since artists invalidate polluted perceptions of black victims, they serve as a tool to educate the public, defy ignorant preconceptions, and rewrite the narrative.

When stereotype-based identities are projected, when cop cams are intentionally covered, when reporters refer to black people killed by the police as “criminals” or “thugs,” when news channels popularize incriminating photos of black victims and family photos of officers, and when police departments attempt to justify excessive force and overly sympathize with the police officers committing the crime, artists counteract oppressive propaganda by creating art that reminds the public who the true victims are and of the struggles that black people endure.

When we see artists painting portraits and accurately portraying black victims, they are suddenly re-humanized. And through their art, they challenge the destructive, police-protecting, victim-blaming perspective that is pushed simply by exerting the victim’s individuality.

These socially conscious art pieces remind us that each woman, man, and child killed had family, friends, fears, dreams, aspirations, and lives, just as complex as ours. That is why artwork that stands up for social justice is so vital at this time.

It conveys the common humanity that we share between these people who have been falsely accused, attacked, and murdered on the basis of their skin color, and this likeness stirs compassion for the people facing unimaginable hardship, pain for the people we have lost, and rage towards the injustices that the black community constantly faces.

Artists actively advocate for victims of systematic oppression and make a difference when they use their creative skills on social media, a platform that reaches a huge audience. However, with all of this passion and news right at the touch of a button, it is common to become emotionally exhausted, and at times, even apathetic as a method of self-preservation.

In an age where news fatigue is a very real and shared experience, conscious art on social media drops seeds of empathy in our feeds and acts as a constant reminder of what it is we are fighting for.

I turn on my phone and I see paintings of Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, George Floyd, and countless other black fatalities. I read their last words and attempt to imagine their family’s pain, and I know that nothing could justify their lives being cut short by beatings or bullets in the body or a knee to the neck.

Artists validate black people’s pain, anger, sadness, and fear. They turn the chaotic reality that we live in into masterpieces that have the power to activate conversation. Artists make the forgotten hashtags resurface, put faces to names, and emphasize black victims’ stories. Artists remind us who those people were, what they experienced, and the system that is complicit in their deaths. They remind us to remember them.

As an artist, I appreciate how creators can be activists too. Who would have thought that this hobby, this cathartic pastime that I already enjoy and rely on, would help me advocate for the things that I believe in? In times of despair we turn to art, because it lifts us up and enlightens us.

It is why we rely on and appreciate when artists manifest what our brains are incapable of expressing and help us to navigate through these especially difficult times. The Black Lives Matter movement is fighting on all fronts. It is no surprise that when pioneering for absolute black justice, the art activism community and the Black Lives Matter movement go hand-in-hand.

Follow the author's Instagram here (@kennedys_catharsis)

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