A New Digital Archive Preserves Black Lives Matter & COVID-19 Street Art

Image by Aman­da-Lee Har­ris Gibbs, “Floyd & Tay­lor Trib­ute” 

What hap­pens when anti-racist pro­test­ers gath­er in the streets and are not met with tear gas, rub­ber bul­lets, and batons? For one thing, they make art and graf­fi­ti. Lots of it, on walls, streets, side­walks, cour­t­house doors, the ply­wood of board­ed-up win­dows, wher­ev­er. Pub­lic activist art serves not only as a memo­r­i­al for vic­tims of state oppres­sion, but as a way to imag­ine what the future needs and visu­al­ly occu­py the space to make it hap­pen. In the inter­twin­ing “mutu­al rela­tions of the polit­i­cal and the aes­thet­ic,” sym­bols can begin to call real con­di­tions into exis­tence.

The streets of cities around the coun­try have become tem­po­rary gal­leries of art­works that remem­ber vic­tims of sys­tem­i­cal­ly racist police vio­lence and call for jus­tice, even as they imag­ine what a more just world might look like: one where peo­ple are not trapped in cycles of pover­ty by aus­ter­i­ty and state vio­lence. Such dis­plays have pro­lif­er­at­ed espe­cial­ly in Min­neapo­lis, where George Floyd was killed. There, the “memo­r­i­al… is con­stant­ly chang­ing. In the days fol­low­ing Floyd’s mur­der by the police, street art, flow­ers, hand­writ­ten notes, and more” appeared.

Now the site “has become a liv­ing space,” Todd Lawrence, a pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of St. Thomas, tells Leah Feiger at Hyper­al­ler­gic. “The state of flux char­ac­ter­izes much of Minneapolis’s street art scene in the wake of recent protests,” Feiger writes. “The own­er­ship of the phys­i­cal art is con­tentious,” and tem­po­rary instal­la­tions become sites of long-term debate. The Uni­ver­si­ty of St. Thomas has decid­ed to pre­serve these ephemer­al state­ments in a data­base called Urban Art Map­ping: George Floyd & Anti-Racist Street Art. The project began with a focus on Min­neapo­lis and has “steadi­ly expand­ed with every new sub­mis­sion.”

The project includes in its wider scope a data­base of COVID-19 street art, with many an acknowl­edge­ment of how gov­ern­ment fail­ures in response to the pan­dem­ic con­nect to the will­ful dis­re­gard for human life the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment calls out. “Artists and writ­ers pro­duc­ing work in the streets—including tags, graf­fi­ti, murals, stick­ers, and oth­er instal­la­tions on walls, pave­ment, and signs—are in a unique posi­tion to respond quick­ly and effec­tive­ly in a moment of cri­sis,” notes the COVID-19 Street Art site. As we lim­it our move­ment through pub­lic space, that space itself trans­forms, respond­ing in direct ways to a mul­ti­tude of inter­sect­ing crises none of us can afford to ignore.

Make sub­mis­sions to the COVID-19 Street Art archive here and to the George Floyd & Anti-Racist Street Art archive here.

via Hyper­al­ler­gic

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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