George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis started a wave of protests across Minnesota and the world. It also created an explosion of public art, as buildings across Minneapolis became a canvas for expression by individuals and communities whose voices are normally underrepresented or ignored.
One colorful mural of George Floyd in south Minneapolis quickly became a fixture on social media, a backdrop for national TV news, and even a centerpiece at George Floyd’s Minneapolis memorial service.
The artwork is painted at Cup Foods, at the intersection of E. 38th Street and S. Chicago Avenue, where Floyd was killed as former police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes. Within hours after Floyd’s death, that intersection became a sacred space for the community to gather, grieve, and organize.
While the mural has become well-known across social media, what’s lesser known is the controversy that rose around it. It was painted as a tribute by a small team of artists led by Xena Goldman and Cadex Herrera but has drawn criticism for taking such a prominent position in a space that community members dedicated to the expression of Black perspectives.
Created without input from Black artists or the community, some said, it didn’t represent the people most affected by Floyd’s killing.
The situation launched a discussion about representation in the art responding to Floyd’s killing — one centered around who’s creating the art at the heart of this movement, and why that matters.
The issue expands beyond the art at the intersection where Floyd was killed, as evidenced by the recent removal of a controversial mural painted on the Kmart in south Minneapolis titled “Love Your Enemies,” which depicted a police officer hugging a Black protestor. After sparking outrage on social media, it is now gone.
“Many of the artwork that was popping up were from outside of the neighborhoods, outside of the community — and some people were upset by that,” said Melodee Strong, an illustrator, muralist and art educator in north Minneapolis.
“Let's say it's a white artist coming into a predominantly Black and brown neighborhood and they're just slapping their artwork up. Now, it might be beautiful, but we haven't even had a chance to grieve, and you're kind of taking over our spaces,” Strong said.
In episode No. 4 of our YouTube series, Tomorrow Together, producer Mark Vancleave spoke with Strong and Peyton Scott Russell — two prominent, local artists who grew up in the area — for their perspective on the issue.
In episodes soon to come, we’ll be exploring the past and the future of policing in Minneapolis and explaining what it means to defund, dismantle or abolish the police.