For days following the killing of George Floyd, the city of Oakland was in flames, if not literally then figuratively. Peaceful protests turned into confrontation which turned into violence leaving the city littered with tear gas canisters, rubber bullets and broken glass. As calm returned and peaceful protest prevailed, the city took a moment, a moment to catch its breath, to begin to clean up and to speak out in a loud and stunning artistic voice for justice.
Many of Oakland’s downtown businesses put up sheets of plywood to cover smashed windows or to prevent any possible damage during future demonstrations. As a part of the cleanup, as a part of taking that deep breath, artists saw an opportunity to turn sheets of wood into canvases on which to paint works of art honoring those who have died due to racial injustice and to honor the Black Lives Matter movement.
Some are very simple works while others are brilliant, vivid works that take your breath away. The message changes from storefront to storefront taking your emotions along for the ride. At one panel your heart aches, while the very next burns with anger.
A simple red heart speaks of love and further on a snarling panther bodes of uprising and change.
“George Floyd’s pleas awakened this world that has been rendered comatose by fear of contagion and all of a sudden nothing mattered but justice.” ~ Aysha Taryam
“People don’t have any mercy. They tear you limb from limb, in the name of love. Then, when you’re dead, when they’ve killed you by what they made you go through, they say you didn’t have any character. They weep big, bitter tears—not for you. For themselves, because they’ve lost their toy.” ~ James Baldwin
“My skin is not a sin.” ~ Carlos Wallace
“I love blackness, it is STUNNING, MAJESTIC, INSPIRING but it is also not here to serve non black people when it suits them via sports, music, hairstyles, entertainment etc, it should be respected in the workplace and shouldn’t be ignored when it’s crying out in fear of being killed.” ~ Clara Amfo
“If the American Negro, the American black man, is going to become a free person in this country, the people of this country have to give up something. If they don’t give it up, it will be taken from them.” ~ James Baldwin
“For us, #BlackLivesMatter is really a re-humanization project. It’s a way for us to love each other again, to love ourselves, and to project that love into the world so that we can transform it.” ~ Alicia Garza
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” ~ Martin Luther King
Not all of the art was planned and carefully sketched. Some was done during the heat of protest but has been part of a decades long blueprint drafted over years of injustice. And some is the boil over of three long years of frustration and division.
In the end after you’ve taken it all in, if you’ve taken it all in, there is so much art spread through downtown; once you’ve absorbed it all you’re touched by all the love and care and devotion that brought together men and women of all colors and a singular talent to convey a simple message. Black Lives Matter.
As Oakland repairs itself and the plywood comes down the art will come down with it. The paintings are fleeting but the message is enduring and will never cease until justice and equality reign. Hopefully this street art will find a home in a museum.
21 thoughts on “Oakland’s Portrait For Social Justice”
Love this post Paulie! What a dramatic time for all of us. One I hope puts us on a better path forward.
Thank you Pam. I’m the cynic in my little circle but I have to say that this time I really think we’re turning a corner. I certainly hope so. Four hundred years is a long time to navigate a bend.
I hope so too.
I say this because someone should say it: The last picture contains a double obscenity — FUKK and TRUMP. The first name is misspelled; the second name is mistaken for a human being.
I most definitely agree with the latter and partially agree with the former. It is misspelled but I think it’s for effect.
You’re right — I agree that it was misspelled for effect….and it was mainly for effect that I called it an obscenity. Perhaps a word is obscene only if the intent of its use is obscene, in the manner of “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh” (or words to that effect).
OMG, Paulie, what powerful statements though art. Gosh, I hope it can be preserved and displayed somewhere else. Let’s hope this awakening lasts. It must.
There are a lot of local articles about these murals. I believe that one mentioned that some of the artists will take possession once taken down. They should one day find their way into a museum.
That’s reassuring. Let’s hope so. This is important history.
I hope they are preserved in some way.
I read that some of the artists are going to take possession of the panels that they painted on. I would hope that they will all be preserved, even those that are very simply done, and put on exhibit
Thank you for sharing!
And thank you for visiting.
Your words and the street art are right on the money. Kudos to you and to the artists.
Thank you so much. I tried to keep my own words to an appropriate minimum, descriptive of the scene for the most part and let the art do most of the speaking.
This is absolutely beautiful, Paulie. ✊
Thank you Tom. The photos in this piece are just a small sampling. Should be more to come in subsequent posts.
Thank you for posting photos of some of the BLM murals that have been created in Oakland. The vast amount of art work that has been produced in such a short amount of time on these sheets of plywood is astounding. The images are intensely powerful and vibrant. It is my hope that these murals will be removed with care and preserved as they are an essential part of recording the events of these times.
Thank you for commenting and visiting. I took over 60 photos in a single morning’s visit and I’m certain the I didn’t capture all of the murals. I have more photos to publish and I’m planning on returning this week. There will be at least one more post highlighting the Oakland murals.
My understanding is that some of the artists intend to take possession of their work. I can’t imagine that any of these works will be destroyed.
Thank you, and thank you for visiting.