We are living through a moment in history that we will never forget. A pandemic is causing unprecedented deaths and unemployment, and it’s been compounded by protests sparked by the death of George Floyd against systemic racism and police brutality.
Tampa Bay’s creative community has responded in many different ways.
After attending a protest, Tampa artist Cam Parker decided that the unpredictable nature of protests was not “his lane.” So instead, he thought, “I’m not going to feel beat down or defeated. I’m going to make stuff.”
He saw a viral video of a white police officer at a Fort Lauderdale protest who shoved a seated protester. Moments later, Krystle Smith, a black police officer, reprimanded the officer.
Parker said the image was so powerful that he could “never unsee it” and helped him decide that he would help drive change through art. He recreated the image of Officer Smith gesturing at the officer who shoved the protester and titled it Need Something Done? Hire a Black Woman. He used the term “hire” to encourage hiring black women into positions of power.
He contacted Smith on Instagram to show her the painting. He said that she was “super humble.” Parker is selling prints of it on social media; you can find him at @painkillercam on Instagram. Half of the proceeds will go to the Black Lives Matter organization of Smith’s choice.
Parker also painted a portrait of activist Tamika Mallory, whose knowledge of the inconsistencies in police guidelines he finds inspiring. She’s portrayed with her fist in the air and the words “America, you want us to do better? Then dammit you do better.” He shared it on social media and tagged Mallory and the organization she co-founded, Until Life, who reposted it. Half of the proceeds from the prints will go to that organization.
There are also plans for Parker to paint a Black Lives Matter mural. He has an idea to invite the community to write therapeutic messages on the mural. He wants to equate Black Lives Matter with love, support and encouragement.
Parker said making art during this time is therapeutic for him, too.
“It helps me stay out of that realm of angry black man, mad at the world in our current social climate," he said. "It helps me go ‘OK, what’s next?’ instead of screaming.”
For years, Tampa artist Nneka Jones has been highlighting racial issues in her body of paintings and embroidered portraits of black women and girls with targets on them. They are getting more attention than ever on social media, at her Instagram account @artyouhungry.
Jones isn’t attending the protests because of the threat of COVID-19.
But after she watched the video of Floyd’s death, she cried, and was horrified by the fact that she had watched him die. It haunted her for days. So she sat down to paint a portrait of his face. She didn’t need to paint a target on it, she said. Simply painting him was enough of a message.
“It was something that I felt like I needed to get out of me, because I was so layered with emotion," she said.
Once the painting was finished and she’d posted the time-lapse video of the process on social media, she felt relief.
“I did my part as an artist and as a black woman," she said. “It was something I needed to do.”
Bianca Burrows was overwhelmed when her Instagram feed became deluged with conflicting opinions about everything happening at the moment, including COVID-19 and the protests. So she made a digital illustration that encompassed all of those emotions in the form of protest signs.
The illustration will be blown up and wrapped on a movable 20-foot wall installed in Tampa. Burrows made prints that she sells at her Instagram account, @itsbbart, and donates proceeds to Nneka Jones, @artyouhungry.
She said she chose to do that because she believes in Jones’ work and her message.
Maria Virgilio of Tarpon Springs was reading the Tampa Bay Times online when she saw Times photographer Douglas Clifford’s powerful image of Mychael Latimer Jr. in the middle of a protest, wearing a mask and holding a sign that reads “Stop Killing Us.” Her motherly instinct gave her the urge to protect the child. When she noticed a glare, a red patch of light right where the boy’s heart is, she decided to recreate the image in watercolor.
“Here he is in the middle of this turmoil with this glowing heart," she said. ”I had to do it. I thought, maybe the world will be a better place when he’s older. Maybe he won’t be afraid to go anywhere."
Virgilio hasn’t been going to the protests, but said she hopes they create change.
When asked what he thought of Virgilio’s painting of his photo, Clifford said: “It is a rare opportunity to physically see how someone interprets the way I saw something; there’s a lot of introspection. I document the moment, but the artist takes that moment and amplifies the emotion. People are dealing with so many emotions right now and visuals can be a great voice to communicate those feelings. They can also heal. Her interpretation is a reminder.”
A photo from the protests by Times photographer Martha Asencio-Rhine inspired artist Pia Langfeld, who lives in Colorado. She saw the image of a group of black women and girls on a porch published in the New York Times and it struck her as exactly what the protest was about because there are no men in the picture.
“Little girls should not have to worry about whether or not their daddy will make it home from the store,” she said.
She focused on the two little girls in the center of the photo, particularly because the girl’s T-shirt reads “Girl, You Got This.” Langfeld said this especially spoke to her because she is a fierce supporter of the Me Too movement and has attended the women’s marches.
“They looked so sweet and innocent," she said. "And feisty.”
She drew the Black Power fist behind the two girls in the digital painting.
She hasn’t been to any protests because of COVID-19.
“That’s why I drew this,” she said. “I have to show my support because I feel so guilty not being there.”
“I’m humbled by how this photo has been received,” Asencio-Rhine said. “I think it’s really lovely that it has sparked conversation and creativity. As a woman of color working in journalism, it’s a nice feeling to leave an imprint that conveys how I see this movement while I continue to document it all as objectively as possible."
Ashley Canay is a Riverview-based wedding photographer. During her first day of capturing a protest and not seeing any black photographers, she thought to herself, “We need to be out here.” So she organized a group of professional black photographers and created Tampa’s Black Activist Photographers.
They are Lisa Marie, Karissa Hart, Valansiar A Key, Zaloriea Jackson, Patrick Richardson, James Jackson Tracy Renee, Whitley Wilkes and CP.
“This movement is a monumental time in black history,” Canay said. “Black photographers have the ability now to be represented.”
Canay said that one member of the group was detained during the protests and that she herself has been asked to leave.
An exhibition of their photographs called “Eye of the Storm” will open at Cafe Hey in Tampa on June 28. Canay hopes to take it to some local museums. They’re making a book of the images to sell and will give the proceeds to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Keilis Sanchez brought her artistic creativity to a protest in Tampa on May 31 when she recited a poem she’d written, titled We Need to Do Better, through a megaphone.
She wrote it nearly two years ago in response to the killing of Nia Wilson, an 18-year-old black woman who was murdered after an attack on her and her three sisters after exiting a BART station in Oakland, Calif.
Sanchez, who is Puerto Rican, said that the case reminded her as a teenage person of color that this could happen to her.
In the poem, Sanchez writes: “I’mma put it simple as this, because things are about to change, not just the weather. I don’t care if you don’t like my ethnicity, color, race, or my complexity. Cuz i’m willing to stand together, because, who knows, when this world, is gonna be freed from these man made fetters? We need to do better.”
Sanchez in known as “Big K” in the poetry slams she participates in with the group Heard Em Say. She said she got a positive response from fellow protesters that day and continues to write new poems that she’ll recite at future protests.
“I like to provide a voice for what others are feeling,” she said.
Bob Devin Jones, a playwright, actor, director and founder of the Studio@620 in St. Petersburg, set out to write a piece for an upcoming online program called “Reflections.” The recorded program incorporates poems, songs and paintings by Dr. Gary Lemons, including a painting of a black man called Self Image, which inspired Jones.
The narrative became difficult to write and even more so to perform during the recording, although he got through it, Jones said, because all he could think of was how his father, grandfather and great-grandfather had to “walk the same mile.”
“When I see Floyd, I see myself,” he said. "I have to process that before I can make a reaction to it. I’m too full right now to make a creative reaction to horror.”
Terri Lipsey Scott, the executive director of the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum in St. Petersburg, worked with the city to get the first Black Lives Matter mural painted in the road in front of the museum at 22nd Street and Ninth Avenue S.
The mural will be revealed at a Juneteenth celebration on Friday from 9:30 a.m. to noon
“The museum is the home of African American studies and of the city’s black history,” Scott said. “I love the idea of starting where our history is held. Why not start at home base?”
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Tampa Bay Times protest coverage
HEADING OUT TO THE PROTEST? How to protect eyes from tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets.
WHY DO POLICE KEEP CLASHING WITH PROTESTERS? We looked at law enforcement rules. They urge de-escalation but only to a point.
WHAT ARE THEY USING? A guide to non-lethal and less-lethal weapons used in local, national protests.
SOME ARE NEW, SOME ARE LONGTIME FAVORITES: 15 black-owned restaurants and food businesses in Tampa Bay
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