Saturday, December 26, 2020

Street Art that Expresses the World's Pain

Graffiti possesses an ephemeral quality, and an enduring power. 

Writing in the LA Times, academic and author Susan A Philips (whose books include The City Beneath: A Century of Los Angeles Graffiti) has argued: "Political graffiti is a critical intervention in urban space, especially as municipalities and police attempt to shut down the streets. Even after protests have dispersed, graffiti stands as a testament to the protestors' collective voice… The graffiti may soon be washed away, but not before it is documented, becoming part of history". 

In South Minneapolis, US, the Cup Foods convenience store, where a 911 call led to George Floyd's police killing on May 25, 2020 is now emblazoned with memorial art. 

One particularly moving piece was created by local illustrator, muralist and teacher Melodee Strong; entitled Mama after Floyd's dying plea, it depicts grieving black mothers, against a backdrop of the US flag. (See above photo). 

"I am a mother, and when George cried out for his 'mama' as he was taking his last breaths, I also cried", Strong tells BBC

"That's what we do when we are in trouble or scared, we cry out for God or our mothers. My son has been harassed and mistreated by the police. I have witnessed numerous times how the people I love have been abused by police. The anguish we feel from the fear and the experiences of those too many incidences is what I feel in the faces I painted… Even though this piece is about George Floyd, it's more a dedication to all the mothers that have lost their child to police violence". 

Mind you, it’s not only in the US – graffiti tributes to Floyd were featured in cities in Africa, Asia, Australia and Europe.


In Karachi, Pakistan, truck artist Haider Ali painted a portrait inscribed with English tags ('#blacklivesmatter') and Urdu song lyrics ("This world doesn't belong to white or black people, it belongs to the ones with heart"). 

In Idlib, Syria, Floyd appeared among the war-ravaged ruins. 

In Nairobi, Kenya, he was depicted alongside the Swahili word "haki", meaning 'justice' (in a work by local artist Allan Mwangi, aka Mr Detail Seven). 

Palestinian artist Walid Ayyoub painted Floyd wearing a kufiya, a traditional Arabian headdress worn throughout the Middle East region that is also seem as a symbol of Palestinian resistance and solidarity. And behind Floyd is the Palestinian flag, which the artist used to draw a correlation between the Palestinian struggle against occupying Israel and the systematic racism and police brutality that African Americans have endured for years and years. 

And in Berlin's Mauerpark in Germany, Floyd was portrayed on the wall by Dominican-born artist Eme Freethinker, alongside an array of iconic black US figures: Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Angela Davis, Jean-Michel Basquiat and the musician Prince. 

These portraits are a testimony to human empathy, and the reach of the massive, multi-stranded Black Lives Matter movement. Graffiti is both an ancient form (traced back to writing on the wall in Ancient Greece and Rome) – and even today, perhaps more so, it remains a cogent contemporary statement about society.

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