George Floyd, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor are all names of Black individuals whose lives were violently taken from them by police or white people, just in the past few months. Their deaths have rightfully spurred renewed grief, anger, and a continued call for justice and accountability from a system set up to bolster white people and perpetuate violence against Black people. This violence against the Black community is not new, but as a result of the recent devastating loss of life, protests against police brutality have occurred in cities across the United States over the past week. These largely peaceful protests have been met with numerous instances of unnecessary police violence and curfew orders across the country.
The thing is, it’s almost always the case that when Black life is taken by white hands — especially if those hands belong to police — it seems as though everything in the aftermath is done to change the narrative, disparage the victim, and explain away their death. Anecdotes of so-called “bad behavior” are published in national outlets, however unrelated, old mugshots (if they exist) are posted on the news, and the argument that fear, rather than racism and hatred, motivated the fatal action is somehow seen as justification.
And while no one should have to live a perfect life to either stay alive or be afforded justice in the event they’re killed, it’s the unfortunate truth that many Black people who are publicly victimized are only the beneficiaries of widespread advocacy if the image they’ve projected up to that point has been squeaky clean. The amount of support their families receive in the aftermath is often directly dependent on the images of them that media circulates and how they’re perceived by the public.
To counter this, images of fond memories are often posted from friends and family, and subsequently, artists often turn these beloved photos into illustrations and mixed-media works. It’s likely you’ve seen many of these portraits and other illustrated tributes on your social media feeds lately posted with the Black Lives Matter hashtag — and the work these artists do is important. They help bring awareness to the lives unfairly and prematurely lost, and offer a small refuge from the unnecessary suffering and pain. Here, Allure has talked with some of these artists about their work and the inspiration behind what they do.