Arts

Black Lives Matter muralists reflect on art, social justice

Panel seeks more support for Black artists, police reform and community involvement

Eight artists who contributed to Palo Alto's Black Lives Matter mural discuss racial equity and public art during an online forum on Sept. 10. Courtesy city of Palo Alto.

For eight artists who contributed to Palo Alto's Black Lives Matter mural this summer, the project was one example of the power public art has in bringing communities together, fostering conversations and amplifying racial equity initiatives.

The creatives from all over the Bay Area came together for a virtual panel discussion hosted by Palo Alto's Public Art Program on Thursday, Sept. 10.

The event was part of the city's ongoing effort to address systemic racism and bias in the city.

Palo Alto Public Art Commission Chair Ben Miyaji and Commissioner Nia Taylor hosted eight of the 16 artists who painted the Black Lives Matter mural painted June 30 outside of Palo Alto City Hall. Elizabeth Foggie, Adam Amram, Stuart Robertson, Urna Bajracharya, Masuma Ahmed, Shiraaz Bhabha, Sarah Joy Espinoza-Evans and Briena Brown explained why they joined the project, talked about their experience and discussed their hopes for how the mural and other works of public art may have an impact.

For most, interest in working on the mural was both personally and politically motivated.

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"About a year ago I was stopped by three police officers in a van while riding my bike, enjoying the sun on my skin," Foggie, a former Cubberley Artist Studio Program participant, recalled. "When I heard about this call (for the mural) I was like, 'Oh, wow. OK.' I feel like this is coming full circle. It was a way for me to begin to process more of that experience, which was extremely traumatic for me."

Robertson, a native of Jamaica who received his master of fine arts degree at Stanford University in June, said that as protests erupted over police brutality and racism, he felt "sort of paralyzed and crippled to not be able to go out and do certain things; mindful of my role as a Black male in this society, trying to avoid interactions with the police."

The mural was a "very appropriate way to get involved" and also drew on his experience as an art teacher and his work with youth.

Bajracharya applied to be part of the project specifically because it was happening in Palo Alto, home to the affluent and powerful, she said. After fellow artist Cece Carpio's portrait of Black Liberation Army activist Assata Shakur (included in one of two letter E's) generated controversy, Bajracharya said it was "disappointing to see how little the Palo Alto community tried to discover her (Shakur's) side of the story."

Espinoza-Evans said she grew up not knowing much about her racially mixed heritage. Working on the mural was an extremely emotional experience for her, as she was also learning about her own family's history. She also drew on her past role as an art teacher in East Palo Alto.

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"I wanted to work on this mural to help give a voice to some of the students I worked with who didn't really have a voice," she said.

Taylor, who co-led the initiative along with former Commissioner Aly Richter, called the mural by far "the most exciting opportunity that I have had on the commission." Calling to mind the discussions sparked by the mural, she asked the panelists to describe their "call to action" or hopes moving forward.

San Jose State University student Briena Brown, among others, called for local communities and especially tech companies to be proactive about becoming aware of biases, tackling system racism and supporting people of color, in the arts and otherwise.

"Facebook needs to withdraw its funding from the Menlo Park Police Department immediately," she said, citing injustice on the part of Menlo police officers.

Foggie said: "I also want to see more Black artists get more money. I want to see more of them and more of them get more money."

Robertson agreed and mentioned the stark divide between Palo Alto and East Palo Alto as highly problematic.

"Pay people. Pay artists. Find them and support them. We can't do this work if we're not fed," he said, adding that artists would be willing to make bolder work and take more risks if they were more financially secure.

All of the panelists agreed that working on public art — as opposed to gallery or studio art — is a special experience and can have a real impact on a community.

When art pops up in public spaces, Foggie said, it disrupts people's everyday numbness to the world around them.

"Black Lives Matter echoing in the space of Palo Alto is important, especially when we expect the public to go out and internalize that message," Amram said, noting that one of the reasons he was interested in the project was the mural's controversial positioning in front of City Hall.

"Police would have to contend with that message on the day-to-day. I thought that was important whether it worked out or not. It engages people in a much different way."

Ahmed was especially gratified by the way in which this project — and public art in general — can foster collaboration and community involvement.

"Public art is much more powerful in bringing people together," she said.

"I had a lot of really productive conversations for weeks after the mural," Brown said. "The first step in racial equity initiatives is the desire to understand another's perspective. Art is a great tool for amplifying this movement."

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Black Lives Matter muralists reflect on art, social justice

Panel seeks more support for Black artists, police reform and community involvement

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Sep 11, 2020, 4:21 pm

For eight artists who contributed to Palo Alto's Black Lives Matter mural this summer, the project was one example of the power public art has in bringing communities together, fostering conversations and amplifying racial equity initiatives.

The creatives from all over the Bay Area came together for a virtual panel discussion hosted by Palo Alto's Public Art Program on Thursday, Sept. 10.

The event was part of the city's ongoing effort to address systemic racism and bias in the city.

Palo Alto Public Art Commission Chair Ben Miyaji and Commissioner Nia Taylor hosted eight of the 16 artists who painted the Black Lives Matter mural painted June 30 outside of Palo Alto City Hall. Elizabeth Foggie, Adam Amram, Stuart Robertson, Urna Bajracharya, Masuma Ahmed, Shiraaz Bhabha, Sarah Joy Espinoza-Evans and Briena Brown explained why they joined the project, talked about their experience and discussed their hopes for how the mural and other works of public art may have an impact.

For most, interest in working on the mural was both personally and politically motivated.

"About a year ago I was stopped by three police officers in a van while riding my bike, enjoying the sun on my skin," Foggie, a former Cubberley Artist Studio Program participant, recalled. "When I heard about this call (for the mural) I was like, 'Oh, wow. OK.' I feel like this is coming full circle. It was a way for me to begin to process more of that experience, which was extremely traumatic for me."

Robertson, a native of Jamaica who received his master of fine arts degree at Stanford University in June, said that as protests erupted over police brutality and racism, he felt "sort of paralyzed and crippled to not be able to go out and do certain things; mindful of my role as a Black male in this society, trying to avoid interactions with the police."

The mural was a "very appropriate way to get involved" and also drew on his experience as an art teacher and his work with youth.

Bajracharya applied to be part of the project specifically because it was happening in Palo Alto, home to the affluent and powerful, she said. After fellow artist Cece Carpio's portrait of Black Liberation Army activist Assata Shakur (included in one of two letter E's) generated controversy, Bajracharya said it was "disappointing to see how little the Palo Alto community tried to discover her (Shakur's) side of the story."

Espinoza-Evans said she grew up not knowing much about her racially mixed heritage. Working on the mural was an extremely emotional experience for her, as she was also learning about her own family's history. She also drew on her past role as an art teacher in East Palo Alto.

"I wanted to work on this mural to help give a voice to some of the students I worked with who didn't really have a voice," she said.

Taylor, who co-led the initiative along with former Commissioner Aly Richter, called the mural by far "the most exciting opportunity that I have had on the commission." Calling to mind the discussions sparked by the mural, she asked the panelists to describe their "call to action" or hopes moving forward.

San Jose State University student Briena Brown, among others, called for local communities and especially tech companies to be proactive about becoming aware of biases, tackling system racism and supporting people of color, in the arts and otherwise.

"Facebook needs to withdraw its funding from the Menlo Park Police Department immediately," she said, citing injustice on the part of Menlo police officers.

Foggie said: "I also want to see more Black artists get more money. I want to see more of them and more of them get more money."

Robertson agreed and mentioned the stark divide between Palo Alto and East Palo Alto as highly problematic.

"Pay people. Pay artists. Find them and support them. We can't do this work if we're not fed," he said, adding that artists would be willing to make bolder work and take more risks if they were more financially secure.

All of the panelists agreed that working on public art — as opposed to gallery or studio art — is a special experience and can have a real impact on a community.

When art pops up in public spaces, Foggie said, it disrupts people's everyday numbness to the world around them.

"Black Lives Matter echoing in the space of Palo Alto is important, especially when we expect the public to go out and internalize that message," Amram said, noting that one of the reasons he was interested in the project was the mural's controversial positioning in front of City Hall.

"Police would have to contend with that message on the day-to-day. I thought that was important whether it worked out or not. It engages people in a much different way."

Ahmed was especially gratified by the way in which this project — and public art in general — can foster collaboration and community involvement.

"Public art is much more powerful in bringing people together," she said.

"I had a lot of really productive conversations for weeks after the mural," Brown said. "The first step in racial equity initiatives is the desire to understand another's perspective. Art is a great tool for amplifying this movement."

Comments

Resident
Registered user
Midtown
on Sep 12, 2020 at 4:41 am
Resident, Midtown
Registered user
on Sep 12, 2020 at 4:41 am
64 people like this

There's not enough black people in Palo Alto for there to be any kind of "systemic" racism in Palo Alto. Therein lies the irony.
Enough of these vapid, pandering articles. Why can't PAO be an honest local newspaper instead of a heavily partisan one that repeats the fervid & divisive national propaganda we are so tired of hearing?
Enough identity politics!


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 13, 2020 at 2:55 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Sep 13, 2020 at 2:55 pm
39 people like this

We are now coming up to the debates for our future PACC members. Within the topic of police reform and BLM activity within the city we need to update our thinking on what is happening in the surrounding cites - in-state and out-of-state.
What we know now:
1. The "official" BLM group is headed by a declared Marxist trained person whose job it is to reduce police presence in the cities. Yes - she has a web page on FB.
2. The "other" BLM people may be or not associated with that organization but they are on the scene when rioting takes place.
3. The Antifa people are paid to go from city to city to create disturbances. They are not local people. So put your thinking hat on here - as long as they are successful then they will keep on going. So the job is to stop that activity in it's tracks.
4. The locations that have not shut down that activity are continuing to hurt to the point that they no longer have a long range business plan. Portland - no tourism, no new business, no new people moving in. How is Chicago doing? How is New York doing? All on the decline. Add to that the UC system in Berkley that has had numerous ANTIFA confrontations which resulted in burning and broken windows.

So why does the management of those cities and states allow this type of activity? Who is calling the shots? Someone is. The CA Governor is not stage center for these activities - he has been strangely silent of late. Trying to figure out which way the wind is blowing - literally and figuratively. Kamala has threatened us - if we don't vote for her the rioting will continue - a verbal threat recorded on the news. That is part of her platform.
We don't less police - we need enough police who are well trained in crowd control to make sure that we are not setting ourselves up for a gravy train of activity which does not contribute to the growth of cites. Don't get driven down a limited definition of the problem to the exclusion of all of the elements which are part of the problem.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 13, 2020 at 10:51 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Sep 13, 2020 at 10:51 pm
11 people like this

TV was filled with games today - all type of games. It occurred to me that all of the people on these teams have been participating in their sport from childhood on. They all knew what they wanted and worked at being at the right schools and the right colleges. Their whole lives have been planned with their respective schools. And if not sports then music - or what ever skill that allows them to appear as professionals. And a great majority are black. So people know how to do this and they get paid a lot when they are good at what they do.

So who are the people that are always complaining about how they have been held back? Are they the ones that did not have a plan? Did not go to school? People who are successful have long range plans and work those plans. They know what the road to success is and work it. And when they go to school they get a lot of help from their coaches and teachers. People who are successful work all of the elements that are well documented as to how to achieve their goals. They have role models that help their planning process.


Carol Kiparsky
Registered user
University South
on Sep 17, 2020 at 9:33 pm
Carol Kiparsky, University South
Registered user
on Sep 17, 2020 at 9:33 pm
Like this comment

The mural on Hamilton St in front of City Hall consists of 16 distinct letters, spelling out “Black Lives Matter”. Each letter was illustrated by a different artist or group of artists. The next to last letter, E, shows the face of a young Black woman and the words “We must love each other and work together for a better future”. The woman is Asata Shakur, though she is not identified in the piece, and the words are an expression of the positive spirit of the BLM movement.

A representative of a national police union objected to this illustration and requested that it be erased (or that the mural be removed??). Why? Because Shakur was convicted in 1974 of being an accomplice to the murder of a policeman. She was sentenced to life in prison without parole, and after serving 6 years escaped from prison and went to Cuba, where she has spent the rest of her life so far in exile.

Never mind that there is reason to question the validity of her conviction, and that there is clear evidence that she did not shoot the victim. She was in the car, Black, and that was enough.

But how many cops have killed Black people? Of them, how many have been punished? What sorts of punishments have they suffered, if any?

As I see it, that is the question that is raised by including the picture of this “cop killer” as one element of the Black Lives Matter mural. It does not say that killing cops is right, but rather opens a discussion about who gets punished for what, and about whose life matters in America.


MVresident2003
Mountain View

Registered user
on Sep 17, 2020 at 9:41 pm
Name hidden, Mountain View

Registered user
on Sep 17, 2020 at 9:41 pm

Due to violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are only visible to registered users who are logged in. Use the links at the top of the page to Register or Login.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 17, 2020 at 10:58 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Sep 17, 2020 at 10:58 pm
5 people like this

That sounds good on the surface. However the official leader of the BLM is n avowed Marxist and coordinator for events. We are seeing "events" in Portland which are destroying that city. No one is going to vacation there, start a business there, buy a home there.
Worse - when you look at where you will send your child to college you want that child to be in a safe place. Major locations are now being disqualified as a safe place. The colleges in those locations are going to fail. The businesses are going to fail. If you are creating failure than what is the point? That failure affects everyone who is going to work in the city. That is not solving a problem - it is creating a multitude of new problems. Those "events" are not peaceful.

A best selling author and talk show said today that his Christmas Ornament for 2020 will be a Burning Dumpster.


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