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Words on the street: Black Lives Matter to Charlotte artists, too
Muralists appreciate message, but want action
Published Wednesday, June 10, 2020 8:12 am
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

Charlotte-based artists paint in a sketch of Black Lives Matter Tuesday along Tryon Street in Center City. “The support is awesome,” artist Jason Woodberry said. “It’s right to do.”

Black Charlotte needs more than a block-long mural reading “Black Lives Matter.”

While a collaboration between the city of Charlotte, BLKMRKTCLT, Charlotte is Creative and Brand the Moth transformed South Tryon Street’s pavement between 3rd and 4th streets as a gesture of unity, it has to be followed by action to address systemic racial disparities.

Each letter represents an individual mural curated by Dammit Wesley, co-owner of BLKMRKTCLT, a gallery and studio space at Camp North End.

“While I appreciate Charlotte letting us come out here and do this, I love the gesture. I need them to actually put their money where their mouth is and not only support artists and creatives, but support the residents here,” Wesley said Tuesday. “There’s no reason why 40% of the city’s budget is going toward policing when just this morning when I came out here, I see homeless people sleeping on the streets. I ride to my studio on Statesville Avenue every day, and I see tent cities that are being erected. There are people who need help, and you clearly have the money to help them, but you’re giving it to people who are either not invested in the community, they’re incompetent at their jobs, or they just don’t have the same interests in preserving life that we as a people – the public – do.”

Civil unrest has spread across the globe since George Floyd was killed by Derek Chauvin, a police officer who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25. Protests began been held in Charlotte daily since May 29.

“The support is awesome,” artist Jason Woodberry said. “It’s right to do. The donations, and by all means, if people could continue to donate and help protest do, but I asked myself, ‘is this real?’”

Said Wesley: “There’s a social contract that needs to be understood. We understand it. We don’t steal. We don’t lie. We do things to make sure that we all benefit from each other’s collective efforts. We’re not seeing that from the police and we’re not really seeing that from our own government in certain aspects. Your citizens have time to protest. It just kind of depends on how you want to go down in history. Do you want to burn like Minneapolis, or do you want to work alongside your general public to make change. Ball’s in your court.”

Black Lives Matter street murals have emerged across the country since Floyd’s death. Charlotte Assistant City Manager and Director of Planning, Design & Development Taiwo Jaiyeoba sparked the idea here with a June 5 retweet of the Washington, D.C. mural on the renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House. While Jaiyeoba envisioned the mural at the intersection of Trade and Tryon streets, but construction forced the art further south along Tryon.

Brand the Moth Executive Director Sam Guzzie reached out to local artists, to turn what would typically be a three-month project into a matter of days. The project is financed through place-making funds from the city’s 2020 fiscal year budget, which runs out June 31. The city paid $500 for each letter. The mural will remain and be maintained until the city resurfaces the street.

“The place maker in me started thinking, ‘how can we use this as an opportunity to occupy that intersection between space and race?’” Jaiyeoba said.

Said Charlotte is Creative co-founder Tim Miner: “It started with Taiwo’s tweet on Saturday morning and text from me to Sam saying, ‘can you do this?’ Sam saying yes, and me going to Taiwo saying, ‘I think we can make this happen.’”

Charlotte’s Black Lives Matter mural features a unique design with each letter.

“I really like this take on it, because instead of doing a big yellow font [like in Washington], we’re bringing our creativity into it as Charlotte,” said Charlotte native Georgie Nakima, who goes by Garden of Journey. She painted the “M” in Matter, describing it as an Afro-indigenous typography.

Police brutality and black people losing their lives due to racism is not a new problem, but people of other races are beginning to wake up to it lives among them.

“People of color have already been informed about the injustice, and now it’s so blatant that even white people are hip to it,” Nakima said. “It’s not even a black versus white thing. It’s just a moral code. Humans standing up and protecting other humans. Hopefully we do have some type of reform. This [mural] is our flag. This is a way that we kind of create moral support, and hopefully we have policies that follow after this that really support what the people want.”

Some of the artists participating in the mural have been using art as social activism for years, like Marcus Kiser and Jason Woodberry, who painted the “s” in Lives.

Kiser and Woodberry’s work “Intergalactic Soul” has been featured locally at cultural institutions like the Harvey B. Gantt Center the McColl Center, as well as in Miami and Portland, Oregon. They use Afrofuturism to illustrate American turmoil and injustice through a galaxy far away. “Intergalactic Soul” also features poet Quentin Talley, whose spoken word component brings the show to life.

The ever-evolving project went from a traditional museum space to a black-box theater in February. Kiser is also a recent Arts & Science Council Creative Renewal Fellowship recipient. The West Charlotte High School alumnus intends to continue to use art to help people

“I’ve been doing this work my whole life,” Kiser said. “Intergalactic Soul is five years old. I’m at least 15 years into this social justice art climate. I’m not one of those people to say, ‘what took y’all so long?’ as long as people understand what’s going on. As long as people get the message and understand what’s going on, then my job is done. As long as we know that we’re working to make a better place for people, building these inclusive and equitable communities, and if I can do that through my art, and get other people to join in, then I won’t blame people for being late to the party.”

While each letter was assigned to an individual or collaborative group of artists, other artists showed up in support—Crystana ‘Dutchess’ Lattimore among them. Latttimore, a tattoo artist who owns Pretty-N-Ink and is a former VH1 reality television star, worked with Dakotah Aiyanna on the “l” in Black.

“I am here helping my sister Dakotah,” Lattimore said. “She came up with the amazing design, and the design is for the ‘l’ in Black Lives Matter. It’s going to be symbolic of a flower person whose petals are slowly falling and it says that they’re tired, because we all are pretty tired. I think it’s an amazing statement—very symbolic, because that’s how we should all feel, like flowers. When you see all these things going on in our communities that we really can’t change, but we want to change, it starts making you feel like some of your greatest outer layers are starting to shed off.”

The mural’s artists and their Instagram handles:

Dammit Wesley, @dammit_wesley; Dakotah Aiyanna, @dakotahaiyanna; Matthew Clayburn, @matthewclayburn; Abel Jackson, @artbyabel; Garrison Gist, @2gzandcountin; Owl & Arko, @owl.clt and @arko.clt; Kyle Mosher, @thekylemosher; Franklin Kernes, @fk.creative; Kiana Mui, @kmuii; Marcus Kiser, @marcus_kiser; Georgie Nakima, @gardenofjourney; Zach McLean, @part_t1m3; Frankie Zombie, @frankie.zombie_; CHD:WCK!, @chdwckart; John Hairston, @jagolactus_; Dari Calamari, @daricalamari.


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