On Saturday, the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery brought together 16 artists to paint "Black Lives Matter" on Plymouth Avenue in north Minneapolis.
Here's what each told City Pages about the intention behind their letter in the massive street mural.
B: Sean Garrison Phillips
“The main image will be black roses, a couple of doves. The black rose is a metaphor for Black folks in this country and how it wants to treat us—how it either wants to love us or loathe us, and we always get caught in the middle. A rose is a rose, the flower of all flowers. One minute it’s beautiful, the next minute, prick your finger, now you’re pissed off. That’s kind of where we are now in this current time. We’ve been there for a while, but especially right now. Now we need to show our other side of being a rose.
This yellow piece here will be more fiery orange in a minute, due to the uprising. And there will be a piece of prose. I have something on my paper there that says, ‘We are black roses, love us or give us the garden.’”
L: Timi Bliss
“It is James Baldwin. Enough said, right? Transcendent, finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the Black community, then and now. So he’s gotta be commemorated.”
A: Beverly Tipton Hammond
“I want to reflect that children are our future, but we need to be educated about our history. Because most of the schools—we didn’t learn at all about our history. When the slaves were first freed, they didn’t learn anything about where they came from, that we were kings and queens. So that’s why I have the king here and the queen here. This is going to be a teacher imparting that to the kids, and my friend here is kneeling on Kente cloth, a traditional African cloth, so I’m going to put that print here. And above all, God is going to have to fix the mess. I’m a minister as well, and a worship leader, at Gethsemane Lutheran Church.”
C: Kelly Brown
“My idea was really just to create a cool pattern, something really colorful. I stuck with a warm orange palette, I chose this approach because it’s simple enough—to try to create a good dimension with it, to make it pop—but then looking around to see what everybody else does, trying to make sure that the colors coordinate with some of the stuff around it.”
K: Peyton Scott Russell
“I was honored to be included in this project. I’ve seen other BLM street projects over the nation and really wanted to do something similar. It was a great opportunity as an artist to represent my community of north Minneapolis and join into yet another call to action. I chose a contrasting achromatic color scheme of black-white-gray to fill in the letter K. It’s a representation of my biracial background and a symbolic gesture of joining the races together.
Being biracial, I support BLM more because it gives more equity to Black and brown Americans so equality can be achieved. I was originally going to do the black and white American flag, for the same reasons, but once I finished helping chalking out all the letters of BLM, I noticed another American flag being done. So I went with my second option: a strong, 3D beveled letter style, which is commonly found in graffiti art lettering, a community to which I belong, too.”
L: Brittany Moore
“I do abstract stuff, mostly. In painting I do mostly abstract, but when I draw I do pattern, geometry, super-straight-line, ruler-type stuff. I’m just doing my artistic style on the L. I don’t really plan that much, with the way that I create. Every time I try to plan it always changes anyway, so I don’t really care about planning. The times I did, I changed my complete design or idea. It be better when I do whatever I want. That’s basically what I do. My approach is always natural. It’s never a plan or a stressful thing.”
I: Donna Ray
“The cardinals are our loved ones that went to heaven, when they come back. When people die, they come back, I believe. They never leave us. Their spirits always come around, they talk to us. The red-tailed cardinal is communicating with the hawk, telling the hawk different things to tell us. In other words, these cardinals—you know, cardinals are the birds that represent most of the states in the United States—and if you go back and do the research on the hawk, he’s supposed to represent humans, our loved ones when they die. So he’s flying around and dropping little messages, saying, ‘Daddy changed the world.’ Because remember, George Floyd’s daughter said it two or three times. And I could never get that out of my mind.”
V: Andrew Hammond
“It’s very relevant: It’s voting season, so I wanted to hit on that, furthering the notion of Black lives mattering. Society has it set up like there’s some contention between us with the flag. We’ve been in this nation for 400 years, there’s no contention. I’m Native American, Native Black American. That flag represents me as well. When Kaepernick kneeled down, I said, ‘That’s not about the flag.’ It wasn’t about that. It was about who this flag is supposed to represent.”
E: Christopheraaron Deanes
“Right now what I’m painting is symbols that represent language. There’s a coding of language, the absence of colloquialistic voice that exists because of African Americans migrating and being enslaved. And the robbing of history and culture and race and religion and language, and transforming that into an American or a European language. The colloquialistic language which people call slang is the voice of who we are, I don’t want us to forget where we came from. I don’t want us to lose that voice.
I think about my four-year-old son, who I took a photo of—he’s going to be holding a Black Power symbol—making sure that there’s a legacy behind for him. What does that look like for him having to navigate those European spaces here in America? Because it’s been very difficult for me as an adult male. We’re trying to create a brighter, better, more powerful future for them to have equity among their peers who are not brown. That’s the premise of the work.”
S: Melodee Strong
“So I got the S, and I immediately thought, like, Superman. And then I thought: Super Women of Social Justice. So my letter is basically dedicated to the feminists of the civil rights movements—they’re activists. I’m going to have Malala on there, Maxine Waters.
I have BLM at the top to represent the three women who started the Black Lives Matter movement, and then I have stars coming off of that. Three will be dedicated to three mamas—Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Mike Brown’s mom—because they are now continuing the movement and the change through civil service because they’re all running for office or have received it. And then I’m going to have Philando Castile’s girlfriend on one of the stars.”
M: Christopher E. Harrison
“This piece, I made very biomorphic bodies. I use these figures, I call them whomans—w-h-o—like, who are these people? Who are these figures? The idea was to make present Black and brown bodies—even though they’re not detailed, they’re entities, they’re symbolic. They’re based on artwork I’d seen on an artist residency in Senegal, Africa. So it’ll be these little bodies, and in between them there will be African symbols.”
A: Reggie LeFlore
“I’m originally from Omaha, Nebraska, I moved up here in 2015. When the George Floyd murder happened, protests were happening all over the place, and in Omaha, some things got a little out of hand. There was this young kid, James Scurlock, who was murdered by an ex-marine slash Trump supporter. It’s a really tragic story. And the murderer… he’s free on the streets. Dropped all charges, there’s not going to be justice. It’s an interesting opportunity that came up, because I’ve just been so pissed off about what happened. This type of murder doesn’t make national headlines because of the narrative. There wasn’t any cops involved. I wanted to use this as a platform to sort of amplify that, as a portrait-based artist.”
T: DeSean Hollie
“I’ve done quite a bit of graffiti, and when I heard we were doing this I thought I was doing it all by myself. I was like, ‘Alright! I’ll knock this out easy.’ But I’m doing basically a color contrast—when you do graffiti, you want to think about the colors you’re going to use, and you want to think about how that fits together. The beauty of graffiti is you can do whatever you want, basically. The thought process behind this was: Do multiple colors and blend it a little bit, and then have this letter pop, you know? Do the shine, have that bling on it. These are all simple little things, but if you’re smart about how you’re putting it on here, your stuff can look really great.”
T: Broderick Poole
“I was one of the last people to select a letter. It was either T or V. So I chose T. It’s kind of a mix of some of the art I’ve done in the past, bringing awareness to some of the situations that have put us in tougher places. Different types of laws that have held us back. Thinking, 'Oh, I’ll just get a job,' or, ‘I’ll go get a business,’ and—no, we’ve been discriminated against in so many different areas for a thousand years. So I’m highlighting some of that in the volcano, and up top I’m gonna put some things that can kind of help us out in the future.”
E: Lissa Karpeh
“This piece is focused on: Black education matters. So I started with the apple, it’s symbolic for education, symbolic for knowledge, and also the books. And then black liberation—really coming together, having conversations, protesting, and also remembering that our roots go back to Africa.”
R: Kenneth Caldwell
“The image is a self-portrait, but it’s an image of my son. It’s how I see myself, how I saw myself as a kid—me watching my dad and now my son watching me. It’s a self portrait of myself and a self-portrait of my son. The piece is called ‘The Day Dreamer,’ it’s an image of him looking up into the sky imagining what his next creation is going to be. It’s about creation, building, and the innocence of a child. He’s an artist, I tried to expose him to as many different arts as possible—he plays guitar, he’s really into sports, and he loves to paint as well.”