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    • Lola Lovenotes mural of Breonna Taylor in New York City. Photo credit: Amelia Holowaty

Freedom of Expression: Black Lives Matter in the Arts Community

Anand Choudhary '22 Assistant Arts Editor and Matthew Breier '22 Assistant Arts Editor
From the bold, yellow “Black Lives Matter” painted on the streets of Washington, D.C. in June to passionate new pieces of music and explosions of murals, the arts have proved an effective medium to help people connect with and support the BLM movement.
The music industry has become a driving force of the BLM movement. Key members of the industry have stepped forward to spur change within companies, Congress, and the public. In June 2020, a group of musicians formed the Black Music Action Coalition (BMAC). The BMAC open letter to company executives stated, “Our highest priority at this moment is to meet with each company’s CEO, senior management and your newly formed foundation boards to mutually develop a plan to address the deeply rooted systemic racism in our industry.” They also wrote an open letter to Congress urging the passage of the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 in the House of Representatives. The BMAC has attracted prominent members of the music industry, including Quincy Jones, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, and Snoop Dogg, who are willing to “fight for a just future”.

Not limiting themselves to paper protest, musicians supporting BLM have spawned a whole new repertoire, or, as Daphne A. Brooks, professor of African American Studies, Theatre Studies and American Studies at Yale University, put it, a “new sonic fabric of black dissent for our present-day emergency.” She identified Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, and D’Angelo, among others, as the torchbearers in this movement. Brooks stated “Black protest music should sting and burn, be hard to digest for some, leave an aftertaste for others, make us feel more rather than less – whether it’s hate or love – make us recognise our conflicted passions, and the contradictions of our strange, post-civil rights and post-black power movement lives. Lives that shouldn’t have to be defended as mattering. Black pop radicalism should shake our culture to its core. Thank goodness for all of us that right now Bey[oncé], Kendrick, D’Angelo and company have enough in their bag to pass around.” Graphic art is equally as active in the movement. In New York, walls and abandoned billboards are being transformed into canvases for many art activists unknown to social media. Graffiti artists, muralists, and others came together to bring the injustice that runs deep in the roots of this country to light. Memorials to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the hundreds of others wrongfully murdered at the hands of the police grace the walls of the city. 

Mural artist Lola Lovenotes wrote about her mural (photographed by Amelia Holowaty) commemorating Breonna Taylor: “There have been countless racial injustices against Black women, girls, [transwomen + girls], and yet their names are forgotten. Their murders don’t get the same attention as Black men and boys. When we say Black Lives Matter, we need to make sure Black women are included in our demands for justice too!” To raise awareness, photographers have created the Don’t Back Down! platform, launched this July to raise money for US-based charities in support of the BLM movement. More than 40 photographers are selling prints for $150 and giving the proceeds to the Equal Justice Initiative, Inner City Artists, and The Okra Project.

CT Against Brutality, a group of high school students who organize protests in support of BLM have been very active in the past four months. CT Against Brutality member Alexis Chang ’21 helped plan many of these protests, including two that celebrated “black talent, art, and resistance” (according to an Instagram post) and featured local black artists. Several Hopkins students performed at the August 28 “Black Art Matters” event in New Haven. Alexis, who together with Steven Broun ’21 and Alejandro Lopez ’21 comprise the band Omnia, performed one set, followed by Kaila Spearman ’21 also performing with Alexis. Alexis values these protests because of the “sense of community and [to see] people who care about the same things [she does] as strongly as [she does] come together.” She continued, “It was so powerful to see black experts all together in one spot. Black existance, art, and joy are forms of black resistance itself because it makes black people happy.” Without them, she would “go insane!”

Talia Chang ’22, who has also attended the CT Against Brutality protests throughout the summer shared her perspective on the power of black art and resistance: “It’s empowering to everyone when we all gather and chant slogans of peace, love, and change. It’s empowering to see thousands of people MY age on the streets fighting.”
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