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2020 Year in Review: Local artists reflected on ‘Black Lives Matter,’ pandemic

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In a year shrouded in darkness, Indianapolis artists used their talents to revitalize the city.

Following the May death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, protests erupted around the country, including Indianapolis. Artists paired with local business owners to create racial justice murals following a weekend of protests in May.

A group of 28 Black artists worked with the Arts Council of Indianapolis to paint the boards that covered Indianapolis businesses with messages of support for Black Lives Matter. Artist Shade Bell spent roughly three days over the summer painting “Rejoice” outside of Homespun on Massachusetts Avenue. The painting depicts a group of Black people standing underneath a wide sun. 

“I wanted to make the painting something that you’ll have to look at and to feel and reflect on the current state of the world at the moment,” Bell said in June. “My message? Black lives matter. You matter. Be unapologetically yourself.”

The paintings remained on business walls for a few weeks before they were taken down and placed in various spots around the city. 

Artists joined together again later in the summer to create a mural reading “Black Lives Matter” outside of the Indianapolis Urban League and Madam Walker Theater. In total, 18 Black artists worked together to create the mural, which was made possible by a resolution from the city-county council. The resolution said the creation of the mural was a way to “convey a message condemning racism and inequality.”

Harriet Watson, 25, was tasked with creating the “A” in “Matters.” Each artist was allowed to put their own spin on the letter they were assigned. Watson was inspired by Faith Ringgold’s protest art “The Flag is Bleeding” and said she pulled from other Black artists and her own experiences as a Black woman to create her part of the mural.

“Because I’m a Black person, I just feel greatly about the brutality that’s going on,” Watson told the Recorder in August. “I felt the need to participate. I’m not usually an artist who does Black identity-based work, so I definitely looked for inspiration from Black artists who were involved in revolutionary projects.”

The mural was defaced with white paint a few days after it was completed. Despite the setback, the artists got together to fix the mural, and the road was blocked off to cars for several weeks so pedestrians could see the artwork up close. 

“It’s a huge honor, and I’m really proud to be a part of it,” Watson said. “It’s a really great message, and I hope it sticks. I just feel so grateful to be a part of spreading that message.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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