Phoenix artists have a long history of making work inspired by social justice issues, from immigrant rights to reproductive freedom. Most recently, artists have been making work focused on police brutality, as protesters fill city streets in and beyond Phoenix.
Often, protesters hold signs bearing the names of black community members killed by police officers — including George Floyd and Dion Johnson. Both men died on May 25 — Floyd in Minneapolis and Johnson in Phoenix. Both are being remembered through artworks installed in public places.
Jeremie Bacpac Franco, a Phoenix artist who goes by “bacpac," painted a portrait of George Floyd on a wall at the corner of Oak and 15th streets. The design sets Floyd’s face in the center of a $20 bill, which references the fact that police detained Floyd because a convenience store clerk alleged that Floyd used a counterfeit $20 bill to make a purchase.
Even so, bacpac hopes the design also raises broader issues about the intersection of money and current events, including “the millions of dollars of looting and property damage done by mobs of people who had nothing to do with George Floyd.”
The mural is titled The Price of Black Lives. It will be up until October, because the owner already has other plans for the wall. In the meantime, the mural may speak to people on several levels, as they recall efforts to replace Andrew Jackson’s image with Harriet Tubman’s image on the $20 bill, and reflect on the role of money in creating a prison industrial complex.
Coincidentally, the Phoenix City Council discussed police accountability and funding at a meeting on June 3, just a day after bacpac completed her mural. Protesters gathered outside the Council chambers before the meeting, calling for the city to defund the Phoenix Police Department, and several people made public comments calling for less money for policing and more money for community development.
Meanwhile, Lucinda Yrene was working on a fresh mural for Barrio Café, and making plans for the next phase of a new mural project inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. Recently, Yrene approached Beatrice Moore, an artist who owns properties along Grand Avenue, and asked if there were any walls where she could create new street art.
Moore suggested she use a vacant building located at Polk Street and 15th Avenue, where Moore and others have created murals in the past, as her canvas. Its pastel seafoam green paint makes the building stand out, helping to bring attention to the work.
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Yrene is working with a group of creatives who want to elevate the Black Lives Matter movement rather than drawing attention to their own voices. The group comprises non-black people of color and indigenous allies including muralists, printmakers, photographers, poets, and more.
They launched the project with a wheat paste mural featuring a portrait of Dion Johnson, plus text in large block letters. Above his portrait it reads: #BlackLivesMatter. Below his portrait it reads: #BlueLivesMurder. They’ll be adding more art banners and wheat paste installations moving forward, diversifying the street art landscape in downtown Phoenix.
Moore says she’s happy to support the project, and hopes it helps to keep the issue of police brutality in the spotlight. “The public has got to keep the pressure on,” Moore says. “We can’t let this be over.”