On Saturday night at 9.30pm, artist Eric Rieger set out onto the streets of Minneapolis with digital photos of George Floyd, a video projector and a portable power supply.
He made a different kind of street art than what we’re used to – rather than painting a mural on a brick wall, he projected Floyd’s image across the city of Minneapolis, the very same city in which the 46-year-old unarmed black man was murdered on 25 May, after a white police officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.
Rieger plugged in and projected portraits of Floyd across the city’s Railroad Bridge, the Gold Medal Flour building and the Love Power Church in downtown Minneapolis. Despite fears of getting arrested, that didn’t stop him. “The police here don’t seem to like anything or anyone that is in relation to George Floyd’s death, especially if you are a minority, which I am,” says Rieger, a gay Mexican man who works under the moniker Hot Tea.
“Seeing George Floyd’s image projected on enormous buildings made me think of all the injustice that has been going on for years,” says Rieger, who plans to continue the projection series.
“People want justice and equality, not hate and injustice,” he says. “I have never felt a sense of unity like this, I hope it continues to create a lasting positive change in our society.”
Since Floyd’s killing, outrage has spread across America with protests, rallies and marches. While photos and videos have been filling our social media feeds, artists have been marking this moment with from paintings, projections, murals and photography, all to memorialize Floyd.
Another artist taking an unconventional approach to public art is Detroit-based artist Jammie Holmes, who used Floyd’s last words on airplane banners flying over the cities of New York, Detroit, Miami, Dallas and Los Angeles.
The artist calls it “a national protest against police brutality within the African American community,” adding that it’s “an act of social conscience and protest meant to bring people together in their shared incense at the inhumane treatment of American citizens”.
“With this demonstration,” says Holmes, “I hope that people across the United States will use the outlets available to them to continue to demand change.”
In the same sentiment, there are countless murals across America (and beyond, even in Syria), honoring Floyd. One mural in Houston shows Floyd as an angel with a halo that reads “Forever breathing in our hearts”, as Floyd grew up in Houston’s Third Ward, studying at the nearby Yates high school. The mural was painted by a street artist named Alex Roman, who works under the name Donkeeboy (with the help of his mother, who goes by the moniker Donkeemom).
In Venice, California, Jules Muck, a street artist known as MuckRock, has painted boarded-up windows of storefronts with portraits of black Americans whose murders have sparked protests nationwide, showing George Floyd alongside Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Michael Stewart and Atatiana Jefferson. Nearby in Santa Barbara, Griffin Lounsbury and Chad Green painted a portrait of Floyd alongside the phrase “Please, I can’t breathe” on the side of a building on Anacapa Street, which Lounsbury calls “art speaks”.
New York artist Kambui Olujimi has created ink on paper works detailing the burning of the third precinct in Minneapolis, based on live video footage. “There’s a popular notion that riots are just spontaneous outbursts of emotion, a visceral response to a single incident, but they are not,” says Olujimi. “These actions are the result of persistent and untenable conditions that are willfully ignored, what I call the ‘silent-state riot’. I wanted to make something that will not allow us to forget this moment, and the countless lives that have led to this.”
Another painting, created by Baltimore-born artist Han Shan, details Floyd’s last words. “After watching the video of George Floyd begging for his life, I was so appalled and disgusted, I scrawled out the words in an almost compulsive fit of rage and despair, just trying to put down his last words as a record, a memorial,” says Shan. “It’s my effort to understand his words amidst a scene that is, of course impossible to understand.”
Art world superstars have piped into the conversation, too. New York artist Marilyn Minter has posted a photo she took of African American curator Andrianna Campbell, alongside the word “Resistance”, an outtake from a shoot she did in 2017, as part of a New York magazine cover, but is timely today, and Minter says: “I want to show solidarity against our race-baiting villainous president.” Canadian artist Marcel Dzama has too, participated in the global conversation about police brutality with a painting of president Trump holding up a Bible in a photo op, which the artist describes as “a blasphemous photo”, considering teargas and rubber bullets were used on peaceful protesters to clear Trump’s way to the church.
There are also digitally-made artworks, like the viral memorial image of Floyd surrounded by pastel-hued flowers by Chicago illustrator Shirien Damra, which has received more than 3.4m likes on Instagram. Meanwhile, Saint Paul, Minnesota-based artist Lukas Carlson has created a digital, photorealistic portrait of Floyd.
“Creating this portrait of George Floyd was painful for me because not so long ago, this man was alive and still should be,” says Carlson. “I hope to bring strength and awareness to the movement, while also personally giving my condolences to the family and honor to Floyd’s memory.”
Carlson, for one, has seen the incident ripple across the state, the country and now, globally. “The Twin Cities is my home, and like many others, Floyd’s murder has ignited a deep sadness and outrage inside me that cannot be denied,” he says. “Millions of people have come together through protests, acts of giving, and community service to support the Black Lives Matter movement.”