Art is as integral to protest as marches and chants. From the “Ignorance = Fear/Silence = Death” posters by Keith Haring that raised awareness about AIDS to Abbie Hoffman parading a literal pig through the streets of Chicago to handmade cardboard signs: in movements that shake us to the core, it’s the image that keeps the ground rumbling. We are now in such a movement. Through the long, tear-gas-overcast months that have followed the murder of George Floyd, local artists have been working to convey profound, alarming truths through design—where words tend to fall short. Here are just a few of them.
When he moved to Corvallis from Tennessee, Darius Northern was expecting a liberal safe haven. What he got was nervous stares from white families. Fed up, he channeled his frustration into People of Colour Clothing. The shirts’ messages—“We are what they fear,” and “Stop killing us,” for example—are on the back, “to prompt you to think consciously while you stare,” he says.
In March, Kamelah Adams was on the brink of shutting down shop on her brand, Mimi’s Fresh Tees. “Then,” Adams recalls, “lo and behold: a hate crime happened.” Since George Floyd’s death, sales of her BLM-focused clothing designs have skyrocketed, saving the business. She’s been marching regularly and has donated shirts to protesters.
On top of regular muraling and taking part in PDX Paint to Protest, which supports BLM groups, Aiyana McClinton has been killing it in the infographic game. A recent post about their friend Tianna Arata, who is currently facing up to 15 years in prison for her role in protest organization, blew up, with thousands of likes and reposts. “The way that information can be made accessible through design is just so important,” McClinton says.
You might know Christian Burke as the guy who spent July twerking his way through Justice Center crowds. But, he says with a laugh, “It’s not every day I want to get teargassed.” So he took some time off from the downtown crowds and teamed up with designer Sarah Nelson to create a “Write In Teressa Raiford” campaign shirt, in the style of Houston hip-hop graphic tees (think Juvenile). All proceeds go to Don’t Shoot PDX.
Salomée Souag partnered with the Portland Darkroom to print BLM posters (and raise more than $7K for the Black Resilience Fund). Now, she’s focused on Expression Against Oppression—a collaborative mural project she started with the goal of providing opportunities to other young BIPOC artists. “It’s our job as designers to make it impossible for people to move on,” says Souag (above, middle). “It’s our time to be loud.”