Walls covered in graffiti and street art can offer a synopsis of social movements. Recently, in response to police brutality and the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and many others, artists worldwide have been ignited, taking to streets to express themselves. Syrian artists Aziz Asmar and Anis Hamdoun painted “I can’t breathe” across a fragment of wall in the northwest Idlib province; Italian artist Jorit Agoch made a mural of Floyd along with revolutionaries Angela Davis, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Vladimir Lenin in Naples; and on the Berlin Wall, Eme Freethinker portrayed Floyd and his final words. Driven by the necessity for reform and resistance, these artists are reclaiming public spaces.
In recent years, as the Black Lives Matter movement has gained momentum and protests occur internationally, graffiti has increasingly been used to propel its vision. The inherently political medium’s storytelling powers have become a way for communities to raise awareness, express themselves, and even educate the public.
On June 20th in Cleveland, Ohio, artists Stamy Paul and Ricky Smith led a group of local artists, graffiti writers, and activists in creating a Black Lives Matter street mural. While such efforts have proliferated since Mayor Muriel Bowser unveiled Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C., the Cleveland mural, like some others across the U.S., is more elaborate and artful. Each bold letter encompasses kaleidoscopic images of fire, characters, words (such as “unity”), and messages (“Black women are beautiful”).