Ferguson Continues to Inspire Protest Art a Year After Michael Brown’s Tragic Death
A year after Michael Brown’s death, artists are continuing to respond to the nationwide social unrest triggered by the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man.
Chicago’s Guichard Fine Art Gallery, “Confronting Truths: Wake Up!” contains 50 Ferguson-inspired works by Ti-Rock, including a life-size statue of Brown, lying face-down between orange traffic cones strung with police caution tape. The exhibition is on view until August 20.
“Artists have a responsibility to record history,” artist and gallery co-owner Andre Guichard told NBC News. “This is part of American history.”
Artists are indeed responding in a wide variety of ways, with works like Before I Die, an interactive community piece (originally by New Orleans’s Candy Chang) that appeared on a shuttered Ferguson steakhouse, inviting the city to imagine a brighter future for their community and the country as a whole.
The abandoned building has been transformed into a giant blackboard, allowing participants to respond in chalk to the prompt “Before I die I want to.” Messages include such hopeful wishes as “stop the violence,” “see the young get old before they die,” and “see the demilitarization of police forces.”
Last year, St. Louis artist Mary Engelbreit, known for her cheerful cartoons, was also moved by Brown’s death, issuing a controversial print of an African American mother and child with a newspaper that reads “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot.” The poignant image is accompanied by the words “No One Should Have to Teach Their Children This In The USA.”
At the Museum of Modern Art in New York, 31-year-old artist Adam Pendleton is participating in an artist residency program that will see him travel to Ferguson and other cities plagued by incidents of racially-charged violence.
“How do you go to Ferguson as an artist? And how do you not go as a voyeur? I think this is all part of the art,” said MoMA associate director Kathy Halbreich of Pendleton‘s project to the Wall Street Journal.
Pendleton’s plan, he told artnet News over the phone, is to “observe the residue of these events” without directly asking the community to comment or reflect on them. Instead, Pendleton plans to film and record audio of the aftermath in “a very subtle and quiet way, in what I’m thinking about as a kind of poetic observation.”
By taking audio and video footage after the fact, Pendleton says the sites of police-inflicted fatalities will “[draw] attention to the fact that we’re all kind of connected to these sites, and that this is a violence that exists broadly in our society.” The artist considers this to be “a mechanism where difficult questions can begin to be grappled with.”
In December, the Missouri History Museum and the Regional Art Commission announced plans to preserve protest art inspired by Brown and other victims such as Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, and Walter Scott.
The Newseum in Washington, DC, is currently displaying posters, reporter notebooks, and other artifacts from this past year’s protests in an exhibition titled “Make Some Noise: Students and the Civil Rights Movement.”
“I believe the lasting importance of this event will attract historians and social scientists in the future who will be eager to try to understand the details,” the museum’s director of library and collections, Chris Gordon, added in an e-mail to artnet News. “These artifacts will help with that process.”
Gordon anticipates the protest art will be of particular interest. “Future generations may also wish to see the kinds of items that demonstrators were carrying to protect themselves during some of the more heated confrontations such as gas masks.”
The National Museum of African American History and Culture is also acquiring works connected to the events of the past year, including a photo of a young girl at a Baltimore City Hall Rally taken by Devin Allen, whose coverage of that city’s unrest appeared on the cover of TIME magazine, and a chilling watercolor by Patrick Campbell (above) titled New Age of Slavery.
Follow Artnet News on Facebook:
Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.