An Artist’s Busts of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and John Lewis Go Up in New York’s Union Square
The families of Floyd and Taylor are supporting the public art exhibition.
Busts of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor—who became icons of the Black Lives Matter protests after they were killed by the police in 2020—as well as one of late congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis have been erected in New York’s Union Square.
Artist Chris Carnabuci began to sculpt the works during last summer’s civil unrest.
“I wanted to capture a moment in time that was historic and significant,” Carnabuci told Artnet News. “I want the art to provide an environment for civil discourse where we can discuss our differences and maybe even come to an understanding of each other’s perspectives.”
Originally, the artist started with Floyd, creating a statue just 40 inches tall. He shared it with his friends Andrew Cohen and Lindsay Eshelman, who were in the process of founding Confront Art, an organization to promote diversity and education by working with underserved communities.
“Seeinjustice,” the group’s first project, came about after a chance encounter between Eshelman and Terrence Floyd, George Floyd’s brother.
“I showed the statue of George Floyd to Terrence Floyd, and he started crying, and he said ‘that is the most beautiful sculpture of my brother that I have ever seen,” Eshelman told Artnet News. “People were putting up murals people were selling things with George Floyd’s image, but no one had ever come to the family before to ask their permission. And Terrence said ‘you make it bigger.'”
Carnabuci is best known for his 22-foot-tall Burning Man sculpture Mariposita (2019), of a woman emerging from a giant egg. (Currently, Mariposita is on display in his driveway in Cold Springs, New York, where it shocks his Airbnb guests.) But the artist specializes in Computer Numerical Control, or CNC machining, using factory tools programmed by computer software to carve individual layers of a 3-D model in plywood sheets that he stacks in alignment to create the final sculpture.
“I taught myself how to use the CNC machine about 10 years ago,” Carnabuci said. “I thought it would be really cool to get precision cut layers and stack them on top of each other to come up with a sculptural rendition of a 3-D model.”
Each of the “Seeinjustice” heads are based on a combination of photographs of each subject, converted into three dimensions by Daniel and Rodman Edwards.
“We start with a 3-D model and we reverse engineer it slicing it up into various layers and then cut the layers on the CNC machine, sand them, align them, glue them up in blocks, and assemble it,” Carnabuci explained. “You have to use a precise measurement even down to the thousandth of the inch, because if you make an error, it will cause the sculpture to look squat or elongated.”
Each of the “Seeinjustice” statues has 200 individual layers, and Carnabuci was able to cut about five layers per hour. On site, working with glued together subsections, it took about an hour to put together each one on site in the park.
He’s installed the trio of FLOYD, BREONNA, and JOHN LEWIS in front of Union Square’s equestrian monument to President George Washington, a bronze statue by Henry Kirke Brown that dates to 1856, making it the oldest sculpture in the New York City Parks collection.
As a nod to the history of public monuments, Carnabuci painted each work with metallic bronze paint. Family members, hip hop musicians, and other social figures have added inscriptions to the base of each portrait.
“Seeinjustice” is on view in Union Square at the George Washington Statue, 5 Union Square East, New York, October 1–October 31, 2021.
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