The Art of a Movement: Black Lives Matter

Liz Catalano
Published on

Artists and Galleries Respond to Protests for Racial Justice

As protestors continue seeking justice for the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and many others, art from the Black Lives Matter movement continues to document the campaign. What started as a hashtag in 2013 following the death of Trayvon Martin has seen a resurgence within recent weeks. Artists and galleries have responded to the protests by both exploring the Black experience and financially supporting the movement.

Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter and a performance artist, has recently released a new work that honors the life of Ahmaud Arbery. “There’s a collective prayer,” she said during the performance, which debuted as a Zoom webinar. “And that prayer is grounded in the idea and the belief that one day we will be free.” Cullors used her performance as a call to action to end police violence against Black Americans, as well as a push for greater accountability in the art world.

Alexis Eke, Waters, 2020. Image from The Canvas Agency.
Alexis Eke, Waters, 2020. Image from The Canvas Agency.

That call has been echoed by other leaders, prompting numerous auctions and shows of support. The Hole, a contemporary art gallery located in New York City, recently hosted an online auction that raised USD 95,000 for the Emergency Release Fund, the Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective (BEAM), and Vocal-NY. Another New York gallery, Ellipsis Art, is offering a benefit exhibition that will offer 10% of its proceeds to foundations opposing injustice. This show runs from June 11th through August 31st.

Galleries are also collaborating with individual artists to produce and distribute prints, many recently created during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests. Alexis Eke, a Toronto-based illustrator, offered prints of her work titled Waters through the Canvas Agency. Profits will assist individuals who contract the virus while protesting. “This still hurts but I find comfort knowing that good will come out of this. All of this will not be in vain,” she said in a statement

Several Californian animation houses have recently combined forces to present the Art Auction for Racial Justice, which was held over five days in mid-June. After successfully auctioning most of the artist-donated works, the coalition raised nearly $13,000 for the Equal Justice Initiative.

Christina Yang, The New Statue of Liberty. Image from the Bay Area Animation Alliance.
Christina Yang, The New Statue of Liberty. Image from the Bay Area Animation Alliance.

Individual artists have also participated in the Black Lives Matter movement by organizing collectives and auctioning their own work. Many are using nontraditional methods to sell their art, including through auctions mediated on Instagram. Run by artists, by & for is an account that allows collectors to place bids by leaving comments. BAFTA-nominated actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw is selling her portraits of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor on a similar Instagram account, dividing the profits between Black Lives Matter, Equal Justice Initiative, Movement for Black Lives, and the Bail Project.

Many advocates within the industry are also calling for long-term change rather than limited acts of solidarity. “Standing with Black lives and in solidarity means dismantling the structures that perpetuate racial injustice and dehumanize us all,” says Marie-Ann Yemsi, an independent curator, “We are tired of speeches and look forward to witnessing structural changes in the wake of the many declarations from galleries, museums, art centers, etc.”

Kameelah Janan Rasheed, The Flames, 2020. Image from Art for Philadelphia.
Kameelah Janan Rasheed, The Flames, 2020. Image from Art for Philadelphia.

A group of artists and creatives in the Philadelphia area recently formed the Art for Philadelphia Community Bail Fund, allowing the public to purchase prints of local artists’ works to pay the bails of activists and protestors. The initiative’s leaders have spoken out about the lack of action from larger institutions. Meg Onli, an organizer and associate curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art Philadelphia, has advocated systemic changes in staffing and representation in museums, galleries, and auction houses: “This isn’t a time to wait. This is a time to act.”

Auction Daily will continue coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement in the art world as it develops. Our editorial team is committed to accurately representing the voices of the Black Lives Matter movement. Please send your feedback here.