Art moves us. And the street art showing up in cities all over the country illustrates a powerful movement. On walls large and small, George Floyd and other black victims of police violence are being brightly and boldly memorialized by talented muralists. Many of the artists, drawn together for the first time, showed up with their paintbrushes just hours after storefronts were boarded up, compelled to channel our collective pain into their outdoor canvases. What they have in common is that they’ve found a way to help heal themselves and their communities through their artwork, reminding us with powerful imagery that Black Lives Matter. Hear from the artists and those who have documented their work, below.
It took them just 12 hours to create the moving tribute to George Floyd on the wall of Cup Foods store, near the spot where he died in the custody of Minneapolis police days before.
The seven muralists, organized by local resident Xena Goldman, wanted to give themselves, and more importantly the larger community, a place to heal. “It provides people a place to process,” Goldman told local outlet Pioneer Press. “I think having a place for people to come and cry or scream or pray or do whatever they need to do is really important.”
The mural, created by Niko Alexander, Cadex Herrera, Greta McLaine, Goldman and Pablo Hernadez (above, left to right), with help from Maria Javier and Rachel Breen, features Floyd in the middle of a bold, bright sunflower, his name spelled in large block letters filled with small protestors showing strength. “He was a source of light to his family and community,” Herrera said of Floyd. “Our idea was to depict Floyd not as a martyr but as a social justice hero.”
Behind the bold letters of Floyd’s name are even more powerful words. The middle of the sunflower features the names of other African Americans who have been killed by the police, including 26-year-old EMT Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot in March in her Louisville home, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner. “I wanted to think of a connection that George Floyd was not the first person to be killed by the police,” Herrera said. “Those names inside the sunflower are seeds that never got to fully grow. We didn’t have enough space to put all the names. I don’t think we would ever find enough space to put all the names.”
The final detail on the mural, the words ‘I can breathe now,’ came from an African American community member, Anjel Carpenter, who approached the artists and asked for it, McLain told CNN. “She surveyed the community, asking them if they preferred ‘I can breathe now,’ ‘Let me breathe,’ and one more, and they voted for ‘I can breathe now.’ We asked another member of the community to paint those words in. [Carpenter] expressed to us that the idea of not being able to breathe was fueling so much tension and anger,” McLain said. “And that now George was with God and it was important for our community healing to claim our breath and ability to breathe.”
When photographer Mike Rosati went to capture images of dispensaries and other stores in downtown Oakland that had been looted, the morning after protests, he feared he would find only destruction. Instead, he found, “community and beauty,” he told All Ageless. “Volunteers were cleaning up from the protests, and artists were decorating the boarded-up windows.” Here are some of his exclusive images, shot on June 1.
Artist Robert Vargas created his powerful JUSTICE mural downtown at 6th and Spring Streets. He explained on Instagram, “I didn’t sign it, because it wasn’t about me and I want to make sure the message stays on point.”
Artist Thomas Evans explains that he and @Hieroveiga are “hoping to usher in the next generation of artists, and especially black artists, that will use their art to make change in society.”
Ryan Adams thanked “the friends/fam that came by to show support while we were painting. Also, thank you to all that have shared the mural and spread the call to action.”
Editorial Director Linda Friedman started her career in magazines at InStyle, Teen People and Us Weekly, then became editor-in-chief of E! Online, where she kept up with the Kardashians for over 5 years. That’s a lot of breaking nails, er, news. She is particularly proud of #BUILTBYGIRLS (a movement encouraging young women to embrace technology to fuel their dreams), which she helped create at AOL’s millennial platform Cambio.com. Linda recently followed her own passion into the health and wellness space, heading up digital content and social media at Forks Over Knives and CANN Media Group, a B2B cannabis and CBD media startup. Linda lives in Calabasas (coincidence, she swears!), where she loves running the stairs, playing tennis and hiking with her husband and two teenage sons.