"I'm just trying to display history out here, put it in people's faces and make them aware," said Demetris Washington, 29, a Sacramento-based muralist. Washington, who was recently highlighted in the media for leading a similar project in front of the state Capitol, was assigned to paint the "B" in the mural.
His letter features the Nile River, Egyptian pyramids and black hieroglyphic symbols of peace and love, among others, against a yellow backdrop that nods to the now iconic mural painted near the White House — the one that launched the plastering of "Black Lives Matter" in front of government buildings and city halls nationwide.
"This is a step in a good direction," said Taylor, who is currently the sole Black member of the art commission. "I think there's been a lot of African Americans in this community who have often felt underrepresented."
As artists went about their work, each letter began to evoke a timely reminder of Black life and, more solemnly, death. The letter "M" includes a golden portrait of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old Black medical worker who was fatally shot by Louisville Metro Police Department officers in her apartment. It was painted by muralist Nico Berry and his daughter Simone. In one "T," Briena Brown, 20, a San Jose State University student, painted Black Greek muses of history, music and love poetry to reflect her own dual heritage and to tell viewers that "Black women are the root to everything," she said.
The letters of the mural, taken together, express the multi-faceted impact that the three-word phrase has had since the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police officers: It recalls the injustices Black people have been subjected to, the achievements they have made so far, the demands that still need to be met and the fact that Black lives matter.
But it also brings up the question that countless Black community members, including the protesters and speakers of Palo Alto's Juneteenth rally on June 19, have anxiously asked: How long will this last?
The city's mural, like many others, is temporary. Depending on weather and traffic conditions, the water-based latex paint used for the mural is expected to last anywhere from one to three years, Public Art Program coordinator Nadya Chuprina said.
None of the artists carried the illusion that the mural would last forever. Stuart Robertson, who added Pan-African colors and his home country's flag of Jamaica in the quilt-like patterns of his "R," was clear-minded about the fact that, like all art, the city mural is performative — "a gesture," he said.
"We could do without the mural," said Robertson, 28, a painter who recently earned his masters of fine arts degree from Stanford University. "But it's good that the community is generating awareness. It's a way to make the conversation more visible."
Kenan Moos — the 21-year-old who organized a June 5 protest against police violence in Los Altos and came out with his drone Tuesday to film the mural's creation — said the project was "a very, very small part of what needs to be done."
"Performative is good and bad," Moos said, echoing Robertson's sentiment. "The bad side of 'performative' is a lot of people feel that it's all that needs to be done. The mural is great in terms of making a statement, but the statement needs to be followed up with the City Council's actions."
Over the past month, city leaders have taken a closer look at the Police Department's policies as local protests, which have drawn thousands of community members, took place against police brutality and systemic racism. The City Council has formed two ad hoc committees to review police policies and make monthly reports to the public.
Other local and national demands include increased diversity initiatives, whether in classrooms, newsrooms or government. Through the Public Art Commission, Taylor hopes that the city can start to highlight more voices and artists of color within the community.
"The art that we have needs to represent the people that we have in our community," Taylor said.
Several artists and members of the public on June 30 spoke with Mayor Adrian Fine, who came to observe the painting of the mural. Robertson told him that the city's approval of a mural will not be enough.
"At the end of the day, this mural will wash away, cars are gonna drive over it and it'll eventually disappear," Robertson said. "We hope that the trend or the interest doesn't disappear with it."
Additional artists who contributed to the mural include Adam Amram of Palo Alto; Masuma Ahmed of Palo Alto; Urna Bajracharya of Mountain View; Shiraaz Bhabha of Palo Alto; Cece Carpio of Oakland; Sarah Joy Espinoza-Evans of San Jose; Ruth Feseha of San Jose; Janet Foster of Menlo Park; Elizabeth Daphne Foggie of Oakland; Richard Hoffman of San Jose; Ann McMillian of Mountain View; and Sasha and Ben Vu of Oakland.
This story contains 955 words.
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