How Artists Continue to Fuel the Racial Justice Movement

As widespread interest in the racial justice movement began to fade, artists used their work to remind the nation.

Video Transcript

- Throughout American history, be it paintings, music--

[MUSIC PLAYING]

--or poetry--

- --step out of the shade of flame. And unafraid the new dawn blooms.

- art has served as a clarion call for justice.

- So as widespread interest about movements like Black Lives Matter and George Floyd began to fade, Corinne Basabe's team decided to remind the country using art.

CORINNE BASABE: A billboard is something you can't ignore. It holds your gaze.

DON PERLIS: The trouble with movies is that they move. And conversely the great thing about painting is that it freezes time.

- Don Perlis is the Brooklyn artist behind the billboard. He's painted social injustices for decades.

DON PERLIS: We were apprehensive, because of-- like I said, because of the subject matter as well as me being a white man. The only negative feedback, actually from a couple of billboard companies in the Minneapolis.

- Perlin says the companies refused to run the billboard, deeming its imagery too violent.

CORINNE BASABE: It disturbs me that we quickly want to make things comfortable again and that we don't want to look at it.

- As the art of the racial justice movement blanketed the nation in 2020 admiration and rejection followed.

- The words "all lives matter" sprayed over "I can't breathe."

- In DC art that covered plywood doused with red paint. In Indianapolis 18 artists came together to paint "Black Lives Matter" on the street, each creating a separate letter. Like dreams, a whole letter is about dreaming. I'm a big dreamer.

- Those images also splattered with paint.

JARROD DORTCH: Honestly, I knew it was going to happen. But it still broke my heart, because you wish the best of people, even though you expect the worst.

ASHLEY NORA: It was the fact that you disdain us so much, it bothers you. This had-- you didn't have to look at it. You don't have to be a part of it. You never have to come on this street.

BARBARA-SHAE JACKSON: Once you're in that space where you're wanting to forget the history, if you're reminded of it in any way that's going to cause some type of negative response or reaction.

- Using a collection of Black art from the University of Alabama, Barbara-Shae Jackson studied some white and Black participants' responses to the pieces, discovering people don't always see the art, or each other, the same way.

BARBARA-SHAE JACKSON: And sometimes it inspires people, but sometimes it engenders anger.

- But when it inspires, there's no limit to what could happen next. Perlis' Floyd found its way to billboards operated by other companies across the country. And recently some of the Indianapolis artists were asked to display more of their work at the local children's museum.

- In DC pieces of art on plywood, similar to the ones you see behind me, are headed to their own gallery across town thanks to a Canadian-based property company. These images are headed to the Smithsonian, preserving the message for a while longer. Amber Strong, Newsie, Washington.