Black Lives Matter

The lens is cracked: Art and protest in the summer of 2020

Black Lives Matter protests have been ongoing for three months now. How have artists, photographers, and cultural institutions responded to this historic moment?

By ANDREW D. JANKOWSKI and SAFIYAH MAURICE

Andrew D. Jankowski is a freelance journalist actively reporting on Portland protests since they began in May. He was arrested in July despite a restraining order preventing police from arresting journalists. Safiyah Maurice is an artist and curator whose lifetime of artistic training and personal experiences give deeper context to what Andrew saw and experienced. Without the voice, knowledge, and perspective of a Black woman, this article would have detailed Black Lives Matter art from an exclusively white lens, and would have been a deficient report.

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The confines of American exceptionalism created conducive environments for everything leading up to Breonna Taylor and George Floyd’s murders. Racists in authority have for generations perfected a system of genocide, and normalized the violence associated with it. Protesters took to the streets in early May because Taylor and Floyd’s murder weren’t accidents. The palpable, righteous fury protesters express rages on because if it did not, Derek Chauvin and his coworkers would have wholly escaped even scrutiny for kneeing on Floyd’s neck, asphyxiating his airway for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

Systematic racism is foundational to all aspects of American society. Black bodies have been murdered and mutilated for centuries, the violence justified in the name of white American prosperity. While anti-fascist and anti-racist protesters have face violence for their resistance, armed right-wing protesters are treated with anything from indifference to preference, whether seen this spring in Michigan, or here in Portland for the past few years. Rightwing extremist counter-protesters have recently violently retaliated, with homemade explosives thrown in Southeast Portland, and gunshots fired from a moving vehicle in downtown Portland weeks later.

Protests against police brutality and systemic racism have revitalized the art world amid a still-ongoing pandemic. The government’s cruel non-response to the coronavirus, and its death cult commitment to capitalism, have shifted the white gaze toward racial trauma inflicted on BIPOC every day. COVID-19’s disproportionate affect on Black and Indigenous communities across the country, and hate crimes by white racists against Black and Asian people have increased exponentially. Every system in American culture is infected with racism, from government to medicine to the arts. The whitewashed pre-COVID lens is cracked, and should not be repaired.

With this in mind, the following observes nearly 90 days of continuous Portland protests as this summer’s dominant artistic and visual culture, and what this can mean for the next decade. Above all, this moment is about honoring, centering, and listening to Black people.


Performance, Public Art, and Public Spaces

The Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) has thus far removed four sculptures from its public collection: the George Washington sculpture on NE Sandy Boulevard, the commemorative settler sculpture The Promised Land in Chapman Square, Jefferson High School’s namesake statue, and the elk fountain sculpture/fountain Thompson Elkon SW Main St. All four were removed for structural damage, but only Thompson Elk emerged culturally unscathed. Elks are embraced by protesters as an antifascist symbol, with odes to Thompson Elk appearing everywhere from plastic deer figurines to reindeer pool toys to Thompson Elk’s current iteration, a cardboard sculpture nicknamed “Nightmare Elk,” taking on a Louise Bourgeois death metal aesthetic. RACC’s June press release announced the organization’s intention to review the city’s extensive public art collection to decide which pieces should still represent the city.

The “Nightmare Elk” on August 19th. Image courtesy of Andrew Jankowski.

Posters were wheatposted around Lownsdale Square —especially on the grotesque Spanish-American War monument with Civil War cannons and stairs commemorating Portland’s WWII involvement with Guam —and throughout Portland to reclaim racist or apolitical spaces. One of the more common posters —white Black Lives Matter text on black boxes, with legs supporting white boxes with Black names in black text —came from the artist Stephen Powers, and were printed at One Grand Gallery (OGG) earlier this summer.

Stephen Powers, Black Lives Matter (2020). Image courtesy of Neon-eye.com

The Park Blocks near City Hall are often political sites during times of crisis, especially over the past decade, but they weren’t the only publicly reclaimed Portland public spaces. Revolution Hall was among the performance venues ordered closed because of the COVID-19, but was a popular meeting spot for East Portland protests throughout June. Revolution Hall, as well as the space under the Hawthorne Bridge, hosted some of Portland’s biggest ever Juneteenth parties. Parks throughout Portland now serve as meeting spaces for speeches, multi-faith and art-based protests, and rallying points.

The Burnside Bridge was another early picture-perfect site in the national resistance against racism and fascism. It was one thing to document or view drone images of protesters lying face down on the bridge. It was another entirely to lie face down on the pavement, to have enough mobility to keep our faces off the ground if we chose, to have privilege enough to be calm while living through the last moments of people like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Charleena Lyles, Mike Brown, or Philando Castille. It’s hard to consider the aesthetic horror of concrete when you’re getting violently arrested, but on that June afternoon, George Floyd’s terror  —and that same soul-destroying agony too many people experience —became real in a way that only reading social media posts or watching videos couldn’t make possible. For all its accolades as an iconic Portland protest moment, the Burnside Bridge meditation doesn’t account for the horrors of Black women like Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, or Atatianna Jefferson; queer Black people including Tony McDade, Layleen Cubilette-Polanco, or Kawasaki Trawick; or Black children like Quanice Hayes, Tamir Rice, or Trayvon Martin.

Trump Statue Initiative, Ode to Putin (2020). Image courtesy of the Trump Statue Initiative.

Shortly after some federal officers left Portland, the Trump Statue Initiative performance art troupe arrived at one stop in the national tour of their piece Ode to Putin. Gold-painted TSI performers staged three scenes: one based on unannounced federal arrests of Portlanders into unmarked vans weeks prior, one based on Trump’s contempt for mail-in voting, and a third depicting Trump praying for Ghislaine Maxwell and the late Jeffrey Epstein. A gut response was that Wieden and Kennedy got radicalized since the “Donald Trump’s BS” food cart four years ago. The next reaction was that, while obvious and bold, Ode to Putin could be more effective somewhere that wasn’t a walking distance from the actual sidewalk where Portlanders were arrested. Go to the actual site, or take to the suburbs, but staging at the waterfront felt like a missed opportunity. Ode to Putin can potentially shock non-Portlanders and make the feds’ presences in Portland more real for them, but it’s not clear that the artists considered how Portland might react to its history performed by people “who don’t even go here.” 


Photography

Lessons learned from St. Louis protests have forced art, journalism, and social media ethics to shift in under a month. With cops using social media to target protesters, people with audiences are being urged by protesters to obscure identities as much as possible. It’s a difficult ask, but one that’s been considered and accommodated by many journalists, including myself. These considerations range from focusing on the scale of groups instead of individuals, to outright censoring of faces, or editing them into a more representational form.

How one photographs cops, federal agents, and bad-faith actors is another topic entirely. Given how officers publicly fear being doxxed —despite setting journalists, protesters, and civilians up for this harassment every day —it’s important for the public to know the identities of those who could be arresting, macing, tear gassing, or shooting them. This could be because an officer is in violation of a protective order, or this could be because there’s no other way to know if you’re being arrested by law enforcement or kidnapped by armed fascist civilians.

The corner of SW 3rd and Salmon engulfed in tear gas on July 25. Image courtesy of Andrew Jankowski.

Dronecraft uncomfortably straddles these ethics. The photographer Andrew Wallner used one to document thousands of people participating in an 8 minute, 46 seconds-long “die-in” on the Burnside Bridge. His photos of protesters on the bridge were immediately hailed as iconic, with fairly solid reasoning. Wallner’s best images document the wide scope of people rallying for Black lives, numerous enough to span a river, contrasted by near-empty highways. They also utilize a lush grayscale palette, and lose their full range if social media lowers their resolution. This said, while pilots do keep an extra artist or journalist out of the crowds for socially distant benefit, dronecraft are distracting to protesters, both for their synonymous whir, and their inextricable ties to surveillance culture.

In all realms of photography, from protest news to art and commercial photography. more work must be done to unlearn the medium’s racist and imperialist origins reflecting only white bodies and perspectives. More technology and training exists to help photographers unlearn racism in their training, but major publications still need to put BIPOC decision-makers in positions of real, lasting power to exclusively hire photographers and stylists who know how to celebrate Black subjects, before these publications lose their influence and stay punchlines.


Storytelling & Poetry

Throughout June, Rose City Justice organized nightly marches and rallies. At its height, the group organized a march on the Marquam Bridge —there don’t seem to be as many “iconic” labels for these images compared to Wallner’s drone photography, despite the Marquam Bridge connecting highways and being about 35 percent longer than the Burnside Bridge. RCJ had disbanded to some effect weeks before federal officers arrived in Portland, and organizers who still claim affiliation to them still pop up, but they seem to have lost the trust of many protesters, who either shifted their focus from the Central Eastside, or may have stopped attending protests altogether (the latter group being speculative and unverifiable). This said, in those June weeks, downtown protesters and RCJ protesters felt united in protesting racism and police brutality, and celebrating Black lives while giving space to share important stories that rarely make it into cable or print media.

Carlos the Roller Blader and Marceau Michel speak before an audience of thousands at Rose City Justice’s June 12 rally at Revolution Hall. Image courtesy of Andrew Jankowski.

RCJ protesters could go as far north as Irving Park, or as far south as Cleveland High School. Marching through Portland neighborhoods was a whole new way to engage the city’s history that wasn’t otherwise possible. Black Lives Matter signs on white homeowners’ lawns in gentrified neighborhoods isn’t low-hanging comedic fruit, it’s still a blistingerly real reminder of ongoing violence against BIPOC that white people still don’t understand. There was a misplaced jubilance to white Portlanders banging pots & pans from their porches and balconies in a historically Black neighborhood, like the frontline worker cheers each night this past spring. The dissonance was jarring, yet just so typical of white Portlanders.

That said, stories and poems shared by Black Portlanders have been some of the most important and underreported news during these protests. Catharsis is the experience for the speaker making their story heard. Enlightenment is the experience for the listener taking on imparted wisdom. The experience for people transcribing or interpreting these words is somewhere between these feelings. I [Andrew] learned in undergrad Conflict Resolution and English lit studies about how trial translators would be sickened taking on first-person perspectives to repeat literally atrocious stories. The experience is similar when translating and transcribing stories of sorrow and joy.

Storytelling is the transmission and inheritance of personal lived experience. Spoken word is a way of knowing that’s similar but entirely different from written literature. As the speaker Z with PDX Black Youth Movement told hundreds of people at Peninsula Park on August 8, chanting lets organizers know that protesters are focused. This not only tells organizers they’re being heard, but the words protesters say change them, revealing who comes out for clout and who comes out for change. Chanting is a secular and multifaith act of unifying, in this case revealing vocal antiracist and pro-Black values, and gives voice to years of national mourning.

Black Portlanders’ experiences with racism come from a lifetime living here, or from being disillusioned by moving here after hearing glowing reviews of Portland’s whimsical reputation. These experiences start in childhood, with lived experiences with white racism mixing with their elders’ stories and histories. These stories include Black children robbed of their childhood, forced by racism to grow up too early. Speakers’ cadences and deliveries are strong, proud, weary, exhausted, outraged, brave, unwavering. These stories speak of discrimination everywhere: at school, at work, at church, at the grocery store parking lot, at the doctor’s office, at stores, restaurants, and more places. They also reveal hope and perseverance.

Whenever in doubt, listen to Black women. Black women push movements forwards. They come out every night, rallying and striving for a community that doesn’t give them the recognition or respect they deserve. Black women move mountains and leave legacies that make the path towards liberation even possible.


Text and Digital Art

Protest signs are the quickest and easiest examples of effective political text art. Before I took part in my first-ever protest as a teen, I remember being inspired by protest signs I saw online: creatively, cleverly, effectively summarizing sentiments and demands. Protesters have gotten far more clever in the 16 years since my first protest, with far more cultural references to unite them, and fueled by far more reasons to demand justice. Protest signs can use original words, or quotes sourced from historical figures, contemporary leaders, and all genres of music, literature, and art. Gen Z and young millennials are already known for inventing their own terms for everything from animals to public figures, and protests give them plenty of space to creatively stretch what English has meant.

Protest signs in Portland on August 19. Image courtesy of Andrew Jankowski.

Tear Gas Teddy and “Gas me, Teddy!” appeared in graffiti and on social media simultaneously. It’s almost impossible to know who coined those phrases, but it’s safe to say it was someone whose resume John Oliver should read if it is ever definitively revealed. Social media was still new during Occupy, but at 2020 Black Lives Matter rallies, protesters and journalists engage multiple platforms at once, with more dexterity and precision than 2011’s top influencers could’ve done. 

Text art appears digitally too, with projectors beaming everything from copper-orange protest chants and George Floyd icons, to stories-high affirmations of First Amendment rights. Close-read hypertext’s overwhelming, abrasive presence has, for the first time in my experience, made its way into live protests. Digital literature including hypertext reimagines classical restrictions on what is considered art, poetry, news delivery, or whatever the programmer desires. A protester at the Multnomah County Justice Center brought hypertext from the gallery to the protest’s front lines.

This close-read piece projected onto the Justice Center is meant to use 120 percent of the viewer’s entire attention. In under four seconds, George Floyd’s gut-churning last words project alongside calls for Mayor/Police Commissioner Ted Wheeler to resign, and rallying cries for protesters to keep up the antifascist, antiracist fight. Columns of Black names scroll faster than natural human perception, replicating how computers process information. These details and more happen in under 15 seconds. To experience it in person and to experience it when you’re safe at home, able to pause and rewind, are two different experiences. This video’s format, along with laser-projected animations in the same style as augmented reality dance videos, are aesthetics that were refining themselves at the end of the last decade, and will remain on tastemakers’ radar throughout this new decade.

Glitch art is another prevalent medium, whether seen intentionally through disciplines like datamoshing or analog glitch, or through unintentional methods from broken screen displays. Like physical graffiti, glitch art can be seen as disruptive, broken, or malfunctioning, or the aesthetics of broken data and transmissions are a meditation on unpredictability or cultural breakdowns.


Food as Community Building & Art

Laid-off chefs and restaurant workers have turned out for protesters using their unique talents. The intersectional cuisine of 2020 Black Lives Matter rallies speaks to how much of the world relies on Black lives. When cultures come together for a common cause, rations turn to a potluck, a potluck turns to a feast, and a feast turns to a banquet. During Occupy Portland, some protesters gathered beans and non-perishables as winter came. Free antifa ice cream carts popped up in 2017-18 summer protests long before the never-retracted cement milkshake lies began. This summer, anyone worth their salt in a kitchen has answered Portland’s urgent call for food. I’ve seen pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, vegan options, bulk snack boxes, fresh fruits and veggies, and whole food carts like Kee’s Loaded Kitchen and Trap Kitchen serve Black Portlanders and their non-Black allies for free; to say nothing of food trucks offering free meals during the spring for anyone forced out of work and paychecks by the coronavirus.

Food cart pods remain open for business despite PPB deploying tear gas on July 4. Photo credit: Andrew Jankowski.

Food globally unifies people, building community and cultivating hospitality through a sense of belonging, safety, and togetherness. We truly are what we eat, and how food is prepared impacts a meal as much as the freshness of ingredients used. A cook can use familial traditions along with those learned in school or on the job from their peers. They can come from their own biography, or be influenced by admiration for someone else’s culture. A meal always tastes better when respect is present in equal or greater parts to love, from the diner as much as the chef.

While they haven’t garnered the same media attention or offered food for free, the nonprofit Changing the Gray (CTG) Street Outreach has served hamburgers, hot dogs, and gourmet popcorn to protesters in Chapman Square, appearing before and returning after Riot Ribs’ nearly two-week run. The Snack Bloc party returned under the Hawthorne Bridge, reclaiming the area with food, music, and queer-centric dancing. Heavenly Donuts and 7-Eleven have presented themselves as culinary problematic faves. The former’s Lombard location seemed like it was being defended by cops —who fired combustible tear gas canisters near area gas stations —but later served hundreds of doughnuts to downtown protesters thanks to a few anonymous orders. The latter’s downtown location is something of a neutral zone for protesters who may need something not offered at the downtown smorgasbord, even as its sanctity has been violated by people accused of having white nationalist and far-right ties.

Food is not free from colonialism’s influence. Colonization made white palettes the norm, with native chefs and recipes obscured for white people to later “discover” these recipes and make their own “improvements,” like raisins in potato salad. White people also have an embarrassing legacy of loudly not knowing how to engage other cuisines. Correcting this kind of behavior is something that starts at home, and continues long after protests finish. But that’s not the end of the fight, either. Capitalism commodifies food to a point where global hunger boils down to distributive failure. This commodification keeps ingredients, like quinoa, inaccessible to financially exploited BIPOC, whose cultures center them in their cuisines.


Galleries

In a long-overdue shift, the white-led institutional art world is changing its priorities and yielding space, finally centering BIPOC artists and curators, and their aesthetics, methods, and principles. Even as this happens, exclusionary gatekeeping practices persist in existing systems which prioritize higher educational pedigree. The current moment is a return to what art has always been: a global, multi-dimensional language, a way of knowing that predates literature, but whose ancestral roots are still today under attack from racism and ignorance. It’s beyond past time for white people to engage with BIPOC artists’ works and unlearn gatekeeping practices. Through this regular engagement, white people won’t derail crucial conversations by centering their unprocessed guilt, or make room and support for BIPOC artists’ work about themes beyond trauma.

Don’t Shoot PDX’s Holding Contemporary show, Stop Killing Us: A Black Lives Still Matter Exhibition, opened Aug. 6, and is one of the local gallery scene’s first interpretations of the current moment. Mobile Projection Unit also offers ongoing experimental and revolutionary cinema as a radical pop-up drive-in theatre, showcasing works by local filmmakers as well as documentaries including Crip Camp (2020). These sites are uncompromising spaces, where Black and Indigenous creators express unrestricted.

Black Lives Still Matter installation at Holding Contemporary. Image courtesy of Holding Contemporary.

Jeff Liddicoat, an artist and Right 2 Survive board member, runs Outsider Art Gallery, his home and studio near Southeast Sandy Boulevard and East Burnside Street. Along with his reclaimed woodwork collection, Outsider Art Gallery currently also displays protest art against Portland’s ongoing clearing of urban and remote campsites.

Even with good intent, Stephen Powers’ and One Grand Gallery (OGG)’s hand-printed posters repeat the same inconsiderate, gentrified New Portland activist historic practice of posting BLM signs in neighborhoods from which historically Black residents were strategically displaced. This takes up physical space that Black artists could occupy with the same resources. Especially now, there is no excuse for withholding space or resources from historically marginalized artists. Yale Union’s dissolution for Native Arts and Culture Foundation, Ori Gallery’s involvement with the PDX Billboard Project, or the Tender Table storytelling series’ programming are a few examples of how to center Black and Indigenous artists and their work, experiences, and insights.


What Does It All Mean?

Art is the language of the oppressed. It identifies the environments in which oppressed people live, and reflects the conditions under which they live.

Art can’t solve systemic racism all on its own, and as the theologian, art scholar, and nightlife organizer bart fitzgerald tweeted last winter: “Visibility doesn’t mean shit when the gaze isn’t ethical.” Portlanders, especially white Portlanders, must reconcile our city’s and state’s racist legacies —distinct from and no less terrible than ones rooted throughout the US. Art is a language communicating healing, empowerment, and knowledge. Black speakers throughout this spring and summer have wanted to know why white people suddenly show up for Black lives, and how long white people will do so. White members of the art world can answer these questions. Even if these answers don’t make primetime news, they are still needed for mutual growth and communal healing. Art can be a conduit for this growth, especially when written word fails, and orators need rest.

Safiyah Maurice’s Statement: You listen to Black, Indigenous, Trans, and Queer Women because their fight is intersectional and holds pre-colonial language that has been historically erased by the colonizer mindset. You listen because our oppressed ancestors for centuries have passed down their language and plight. We know the language of the oppressors and the inequitable and genocidal plans they hold for us. You protest to protect Black and Indigenous life and the historic narratives of oppression they carry. So we can continue to fight, decolonize, and defund the imperialist mindset that looks to normalize patriarchal acts of extreme violence. It’s imperative you investigate, look deeper, and question whether your historic narrative, artistic ideologies, language, and practices at large uphold the current paradigm that is White supremacy

Dangerous Days: Being Black in America

Wondering why "Black Lives Matter" matters? The answer's baked into the nation's racial attitudes and its acceptance of police violence

These are the most dangerous days to be Black in America. 

On May 25, via social media, the world watched George Floyd be brutally murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin. Since then, America has erupted in racial and social unrest – protests, riots, statues toppled, flags changed, cops out of control. Historically, there’s nothing America hates more than being called out for its racism, and it will do anything to not have to change its ways. The response to calls for social justice have been one hundred percent on-brand. Violence, thick and pungent and unpredictable, is in the air. These are the days when, in the past, churches were bombed and children were killed, civil rights leaders were assassinated, men were lynched, civil wars were fought. At the best of times, Black people live with the knowledge that at any moment, for any reason, everything they have fought for, built, achieved, can suddenly be snatched away because of the color of their skin. We learn to live with that awareness at an early age.* But in times like these, that awareness needs to be turned up to defcon five, because white America is on the defensive.

Tributes to George Floyd outside Cup Foods in Minneapolis, where Floyd died after a police officer held a knee to his neck for nearly 8 minutes. Floyd’s death sparked a national protest movement that is still going strong. Photo: Vasanthtcs / Wikimedia Commons

Today it’s the Fourth of July. I was asked to write this a month ago. But it’s been hard. I wake up every day angry. A long time ago I had to take an anger management class. In that class they taught us that anger is never the first emotion. There’s always something underlying that drives it: fear, frustration, guilt, pain. This has never been more apparent than in the past month. I wake up some days and my hands are shaking and it feels like I’ve had three cups of coffee before I’ve touched a drop. Turning on the news or social media is like stepping into the ring with a heavyweight. Every day, every hour, every minute, there’s a new video, a new outrage, a new spasm of violence. Responding, reacting, donating, writing. It feels like you’re at the beach trying to mop up the ocean. 

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How Portland’s big dance organizations responded to Black Lives Matter

Portland's very white dance companies attracted blowback from the dance community and agreed to change

For the past several weeks, conversations and arguments around race and the arts have arisen nationally and locally. In the Portland dance community, they’ve been driven by the dancers themselves, many of whom  have concluded that the city’s big companies—Oregon Ballet Theatre, BodyVox and NW Dance Project, along with its major dance presenter, White Bird—could do a lot more than they’ve done in addressing systemic racism in both the art form and their own organizations. And they’ve taken to Instagram and Facebook to express their opinions. 

“It takes someone in a position of power to advocate for someone who is disenfranchised,” said DarVejon Jones, a Black choreographer, teacher, and dancer in Portland. Jones explained what he and many Black Americans have experienced: that you can’t speak up because you fear the systems of power in place around you. “That’s what white supremacy says, it makes you feel like you have no agency to talk about your own life. When you do, you feel like a squeaky wheel,” he said recently in an interview with me. 

Nonetheless, he and many other local dancers have been speaking up. And having been prodded, the dance companies have responded, often defensively and often without the clarity that might satisfy their dancers, the dance community and even their boards of directors.

ArtsWatch asked the leadership of the Big Four some questions about how they are reacting to Black Lives Matter and its implications. Each company is different: different history, different financial arrangements, different artistic focus. But for the first time in some cases, they are hearing criticism from the dance community itself and they are all looking intensely at the same problem. Here’s what we found.

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The arts: After the deluge, what?

ArtsWatch Weekly: Planning for a post-Covid Oregon cultural scene; pancakes and the art of dissent; good things come in multiples

AS OREGON HESITANTLY REEMERGES FROM ITS LONG COCOONING – baby steps, everyone: take it cautiously, and wear your masks – it’s not too early to think about what the “new normal” might look like for the state’s arts and cultural organizations. A couple of highly respected onlookers have been considering the changed landscape long and deep, and while they disagree on some fundamental issues, on one thing they’re in accord: It’s highly unlikely that enough money will be available to support everyone in the manner to which they’d like to be accustomed.

What to do, then, when financial push comes to shove?

Fear No Music playing music by Middle Eastern and emigrant-diaspora composers at The Old Church Concert Hall: Will the future of arts in Oregon by small and adaptable? Photo © John Rudoff/2017

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Art on the move: responding to crises

ArtsWatch Weekly: The Black Lives Matter movement and the continuing coronavirus challenge are reshaping the arts world

WE ARE IN THE MIDST OF LIFE-CHANGING TIMES, and in the face of multiple crises remarkable work is being done. How do artists fit in? Sometimes, smack in the middle of things. Many news organizations have been doing excellent work of discovering the artists speaking to the moment and bringing their work to a broad audience. Oregon Public Broadcasting, for instance, has been publishing some sterling stories – including the feature The Faces of Protest: The Memorial Portraits of Artist Ameya Marie Okamoto, by Claudia Meza and John Nottariani. Okamoto, a young social practice artist who grew up in Portland, has made it her work not just to document the events of racial violence in Portland and across the United States: She’s also, as OPB notes, “crafted dozens of portraits for victims of violence and injustice.” 


Ameya Okamoto, “In Support of Protest.” Photo courtesy Ameya Okamoto

“People get so attached to the hashtag and the movement of George Floyd or Quanice Hayes,” Okamota tells OPB, “they forget that George Floyd was a trucker who moved to Minneapolis for a better life, or that Quanice Hayes was actually called ‘Moose’ by his friends and family. When individuals become catalysts for Black Lives Matter and catalysts for social change … there is a level of complex personhood that is stripped away from them.” In her work she strives to give that back.

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