On May 25, 2020, we all witnessed the brutal death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man who died of “asphyxia.” After being arrested by Derek Chauvin, a Caucasian police officer, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Chauvin decided to kneel on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes until he lost consciousness and died. Both the real world and social media faced the harsh reality that racial equality is still something the United States battles. The death of Floyd sparked an uproar within all races and ethnicities in America. It led to civil unrest, hurt, confusion, frustration, and sadness. It did not just take Americans back in history, but it took Americans back to the streets of Washington to express themselves in demonstrations, protests, riots, and political rallies.
You are probably asking, “What does this have to do with art or artists?”
However, art can often say what our words cannot, and although art can be a way to escape current events, these hot topics challenge the artist to examine injustice and freedom head-on. Throughout history, art and protests have gone hand-in-hand. Artists have always reacted against oppression, violence, injustice, sexism, abuse, and inequality. They often disturb the peace and open doors to thinking beyond what is already known. Moreover, I am an artist of Native-American, Spaniard, and Latin descent, and I have faced injustices way too often in life. Like many artists, I use my work to confront injustice right in its face.
Before Floyd’s death, I was painfully and sorrowfully shocked by the dehumanizing language that some parts of American culture voiced, including former President Donald Trump. I was hurt by the hate speeches aimed at women, Native-Americans, Asian-Americans, African-Americans, Muslims, and Jews. I was even shocked and bothered by the labels used during the peak of COVID-19, such as “The Chinese Virus.” We, as the American people (One Nation Under God), must realize and understand that, like it or not, language has real meaning, and the perpetuation of discriminatory talk around our nation is hurtful to Americans, like me.
Those types of words and labels dishonored my heritage, my history, and my family. When I say family, I’m not just speaking about my immediate family; I refer to my brothers and sisters of all nations, tongues, and tribes. His words not only hurt all races, but it was as if his words made the people that built this country seem unimportant. His words shoved me like a bully shoves an innocent child. I wanted to confront him, but I was fearful of the backlash. However, those emotions empowered me to step out on a thin, slippery slope and create the reality of injustice in my little basement studio here at Greenville University.
Was this subject controversial and bold? Absolutely.
But it was time for me to step into deep waters and find a way to stand up and speak out, bringing honor to the men and women who laid down their lives for this country and fought hard to end racial inequalities. These individuals deserved to be crowned and honored; Native- Americans, Mexican-Americans, Asain-Americans, all the soldiers who fought for America who were not Caucasian; Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Harriett Tubmen, Malcolm X, Sojourner Truth, Sitting Bull, Sacagawea, and on and on.
Emily Hogue, a GU student, said, “This installation did upset me and made me uncomfortable but in the best way possible. It challenged me to think about something that needs to be discussed more and something that needs to be changed. It reminds me to continue to educate myself on those whose actions are being pushed down and pushed to the background by the actions of someone who is unnecessarily stealing that spotlight. The installation is a conversation piece about a topic that needs to be discussed much more than it currently is.”
Nevertheless, I came to a university to double major in art and digital media so that I could put my God-given talent to use. One of an artist’s significant responsibilities is to help the world understand by not just using their minds, but by empathizing. During these intensive traumatic events, people must understand the difference between witnessing injustices, surviving injustices, and afflicting injustices on a whole other level. There is a connection that some might never really understand, but art allows a transformative experience; it opens the doors to the physical experience. It triggers the body and mind to join together, turning a thinking mind into a doing body. This type of transformation reminds me of my faith in Christ. For example, I might not always understand God’s word or the Bible. However, when I allow myself to join with Jesus, ” the artist of life,” I am touched, moved, and transported in a physical experience to a new place of understanding and awareness. I hope that my art can provide a similar call to action.
Media by Frances Trujillo.