The homicide of George Floyd spawned artworks that aimed to heal and bond

The assassination of George Floyd caused anger, swoon, and determination in millions of Americans. It also produced a powerful art.

From street murals to personal poetry, artists have embraced a range of disciplines in order to both process the emotional event and feel part of a community that shares the same experience amid a deadly global pandemic and mass quarantines.

Artist of diverse backgrounds responded to a USA TODAY call for proposals inspired by May 25, 2020, the murder of Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer and convicted killer Derek Chauvin.

Among them was Holly Anne Mitchell of Indianapolis, whose jewelry is made entirely of newspaper clippings. Upon hearing of Floyd’s death, Mitchell was overwhelmed by “a feeling of powerlessness.” Then she sat down at her workbench.

Holly Anne Mitchell makes and sells jewelry made from newspaper clippings. After the murder of George Floyd, she crafted an elaborate “I can’t breathe” necklace that featured his resemblance and headlines from the event. She is pictured here making this necklace.
Holly Anne Mitchell makes and sells jewelry made from newspaper clippings. After the murder of George Floyd, she crafted an elaborate “I can’t breathe” necklace that featured his resemblance and headlines from the event. She is pictured here making this necklace.
Holly Anne Mitchell makes and sells jewelry made from newspaper clippings. After the murder of George Floyd, she crafted an elaborate “I can’t breathe” necklace that featured his resemblance and headlines from the event. She is pictured here making this necklace.
Courtesy of HOLLY ANNE MITCHELL

The result is an elaborate necklace that draws inspiration from both African art and its Catholic faith. The central element is a photo of Floyd surrounded by a series of headlines.

“Mr. Floyd’s death symbolizes the burden, pain and fear that African Americans bear every day,” wrote Mitchell in her statement. “It represents my father, my male cousins, my uncles and many other loved ones.”

In an interview, Mitchell, 50, said creating the “I can’t breathe” necklace was a way of “not finding quite a healing feeling, but at least some consolation in being able to express yourself through art. I knew I had to do something to say something. “

Mitchell’s response is part of a long historical tradition in which artists often serve as channels for the feeling of anger and joy in a general population, said Casarae Lavada Abdul-Ghani, an assistant professor of African Studies at Syracuse University, New York who lectures frequently at the interface of the art and protest movements.

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“This type of art is personal and comes from a complaint about matters that are not addressed by society,” she said. “What you see with art after this incident is an effort to express empathy and concern for humanity.”

Abdul-Ghani sees a direct link to the art movement that emerged from the civil rights protests of the 1960s, when writers like Sonia Sanchez and Amiri Baraka used their talent to advance the black arts movement and drive social change.

“There are definitely parallels between then and now in the way artists today use their skills to discuss the issues people struggle with, from police brutality to what it means to be Americans be “she said.

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For Rodney Wilkinson, it helped focus his feelings about the Floyd murder, which ranged from anger to a desire to avoid stereotypes. He said he purposely named Chauvin by name in his poem titled “In Memory of George Floyd” to indicate that “not all cops are like that”.

“I love America and I love my city” in Rochester, New York, said Wilkinson, 67, a retired Black educator who is an ordained minister and now works as an administrator.

“If someone does something wrong, I’ll question that,” he said.

A stanza of his poem captures this outrage:

Mr. Chauvin was a man with silent anger – hidden by a badge on a central stage

What if Mr. Floyd had been drinking? What caused Mr. Chauvin’s stinky thinking?

He’s downstairs and handcuffed what the hell. Nine minutes is not long for a knee on your neck

There was no excuse – for this extreme and cruel abuse.

In the heat of last summer’s protests against Black Lives Matter, elementary school teacher Brian Downie, 34, of Santa Barbara, California, was persuaded to pull out his 20-by-17-inch sketchpad and crayons and transfer his emotions to the page.

The result was a comprehensive portrait of despair and hope that appears to anticipate the January 6 attack by supporters of the pro-Trump administration on the U.S. Capitol, which resulted in five deaths and millions in damage.

Brian Downie, a schoolteacher from Santa Barbara, California, felt compelled to turn to art during protests last summer following the murder of George Floyd.  His pencil drawing is called

The drawing, known as the “Molotov Cocktail Party in the White House,” shows both historical and contemporary images, such as the famous protests of black runners at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City and riot police against demonstrators. There is also a white house with flames coming out of the windows.

One detail shows a demonstrator and a police officer standing next to each other with their hands raised – a gesture that demonstrators often use as a chant “stop, don’t shoot”. Downie said the drawing was inspired by a local protest where a police officer next to the group took a knee to honor Floyd.

“I tried to show all sides of things, including the great moment that still gave me the chills, but also to the police in riot gear because I had friends in Seattle who protested peacefully but were gassed tearfully by the cops “, he said.

The artwork provided cathartic release, he said.

“I can spend a month on a drawing, but it came out in two days,” he said. “I had all these emotions inside of me, sometimes I was angry, sometimes I was hopeful.”

Eric Lee is used to working with smiling, happy people in his work as a wedding photographer in Washington, DC. However, since the Floyd assassination, the Korean-American artist has devoted himself increasingly to recording the birth and growth of the Black Lives Matter in photo movement.

Wedding photographer Eric Lee documented the Black Lives movement as a side project.  He felt compelled to visit the site where George Floyd was killed once travel restrictions related to the pandemic eased.  He hopes that his art will help bring people together to find solutions to social problems.

Lee knew that when the pandemic subsided, he would have to make a pilgrimage to the place where Floyd lost his life. During one visit, he photographed the Cup Foods store front, which Floyd visited before he was killed, and a makeshift memorial to black Americans killed by police.

Once in Minneapolis, he made sure to approach others at the crime scene to hear their feelings and thoughts about Floyd’s murder.

“My goal with my art is that people see these images and feel compelled to feel solidarity, regardless of race, and to solve this systemic problem,” said Lee, 42. “We should all have equal rights . ” for fair treatment. We are all human. “

Full poem by Rodney Wilkinson: “In Memory of George Floyd”

I enjoy writing and rhyming – with fun and humor all the time.

A year ago I wrote for you – Chisel, Bisel and Jammin Da Boo.

I’ve been insane in the past – but I’ve been more serious lately

And now for months in my spare time – Old Testament books entitled “The Bible in Rhyme”

But when this tragedy hit this nation, I wanted to do my part

And now, to help with my frustration – a poem has come out of my heart

Mr. George Floyd, whom a policeman hated – dedicated to anyone injured

His motive unknown and still a mystery – on a very dark day that is written in history

Death often comes in the darkness of the night – this happened at noon in broad daylight

Clear and blatant – in everyone’s view. Shame on you! What did you do?

He knew that it was his job to protect and serve – this was NOT observed

And Mr. Floyd got what he didn’t deserve

Mr. Chauvin was a man with silent anger – hidden by a badge on a central stage

What if Mr. Floyd had been drinking? What caused Mr. Chauvin’s stinky thinking?

He’s downstairs and handcuffed what the hell. Nine minutes is not long for a knee on your neck

There was no excuse – for this extreme and cruel abuse

He showed remarkable commitment – to the persistent nature of suffocation

To inflict free pain and psychological distress on his victim AND those around him

and children who saw his death

They watched in horror on this most tragic day – as this murder and nightmare found its way

When some of them stepped off the sidewalk, a policeman was in tact

Said quickly and harshly, “Get off the street.”

“Don’t be alarmed and don’t be a bully – that’s what happens when you use drugs.”

Mr. Chauvin is still looking around. Mr. Floyd’s neck was still pinned to the floor

Time slowed, then an elevator stopped – Mr. Chauvin’s big worry was a $ 20 bill

And those words that were forever and ever will echo in the future and the past

“I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe – twenty-seven times – I can’t breathe.”

“Help me mom. Help me please – I’m sorry sir. I can’t breathe.”

We will all have our last hour – and then meet our higher power

No more fears and no more tears – no more darkness, no more storms

His word He is to be faithfully fulfilled

All day day and never night – He will turn your darkness into light

Because he has all the power and power – and we help to do the right thing.

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Released 11:09 UTC May. 22, 2021
Updated May 11:09 UTC. 22, 2021

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