From article by Antwaun Sargent.The Black Lives Matter movement has been everywhere on the news recently. As you are probably aware, we at Fifth Sacred stand at the crossroads of activists and artists. The Fifth Sacred Thing features an extremely diverse community, with two leads of color, uncommon from a white author. Our north star Starhawk recently commented on the tragic deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, as well as the deaths of the Dallas police officers:

Whenever we dehumanize people, demonize them as a class, refuse to see their individuality, we open the door to violence. But let us remember that our society is built on a structure of institutionalized violence against people of color, a constant weight of ingrained assumptions and prejudgments that impact every aspect of life, every day. No, killing cops is not a way to change that. What will change it is exactly what the ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ movement has been working so effectively to do–building a strong, broad-based social movement to stand for a world of justice, a world where we see one another in the fullness of our individuality and honor the sacred in our diverse and complex lives.                                                                                    -Starhawk

Art by Kehinde Wiley.

Art by Kehinde Wiley.

Less often discussed is the intersection between the Black Lives Matter movement and art.

Black Lives Matter was started by three queer feminist organizers, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, and has widened to include many contemporary black artists. Garza is credited as having inspired the slogan during the Trayvon Martin murder trial. After the acquittal of George Zimmerman, many of the responses “were blaming black people for our own conditions,” Garza said. “It wasn’t Trayvon Martin’s fault that (Zimmerman) stopped him and murdered him. … It really has to do with a society that has a really sick disease and that disease is racism.”

clifford-owens-performance-full

BLM performance by Clifford Owens in art gallery.

She then posted on Facebook: “Black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter, Black Lives Matter,” which Cullors then shared with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. (An informative explanation about how they’ve fought their work being appropriated is here.) The hashtag spread so quickly on social media because it distilled the complexities of police brutality, racial inequality and social justice “into a simple, easy to remember slogan that fits in a Tweet or on a T-shirt,” says Travis Gosa, social science professor in Africana studies at Cornell University.

Artists are responding, through a variety of expressions of #BlackLivesMatter, to what it truly means to be black in America. Historically, humanity ascribed Blackness as akin to cursed, but artists are asserting the reality that blackness and humanity are not antithetical. These artists are working to create pieces that offer hope and give voice to communities seeking to speak truth to the powers that be. Whether it’s performers at memorial concerts, artists creating visually compelling signs for rallies, dancers bringing their own rhythms to the movement, or artists adding to the cause through words/images posted on social media, the BLM movement is rich with a diverse collage of voices.

Still image from Black Men Dream by Shikeith

Still image from Black Men Dream by Shikeith

As Jenna Barnett beautifully illustrates:

While statistics, tweets, marches, and articles can bolster and enliven movements, art brings in the endurance. Art makes injustice a song that gets stuck in your head. Art makes murals out of obituaries, and hope out of statistics.

They also put the movement in context, while giving the artists a sense of Doing Something for a large and overwhelming issue as institutionalized racism. The National Museum of African American History and Culture is already collecting banners and protest signs from Ferguson, as well as gas masks donned by protesters and cell phone videos taken at the various demonstrations. NPR interviewed the museum’s director on why he decided to collect these items, and he said:

In many ways, the goal of a museum like ours at the Smithsonian is to understand that context. To understand that racial violence is not new, that there’s a long history. But also that, in some ways, one of the things that happens in these moments, is there are moments of possibility — moments that help people change America. It was the murder of Emmett Till that sparked the Civil Rights Movement.

As black Americans the world over are saying, this institutionalized racism is not new… the wound has always existed, but it has been ignored, laughed away, or sometimes more tragically, dismissed by liberals as “focusing on the negative.” But to heal a wound, we must first recognize it, then cleanse it or we risk scarring.

Look for a #blacklivesmatter art protest near you. Or better yet: Make one yourself.

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