Musings On Art And Justice In The Wake Of The George Zimmerman Verdict

After 45 days without an arrest, a year of speculation and conjecture, six weeks of legal spectacle and sixteen hours of deliberation, a Florida jury  finally handed George Zimmerman a ‘not guilty’ verdict in his trial for the murder of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin. 

trayvon profile

Many people, myself included, are outraged and heartbroken by this outcome.  At the same time, I am completely NOT surprised about the verdict in light of the historic and current  injustices faced by African Americans in the U.S.  The phrase “no justice, no peace” takes on a particular resonance given Saturday night’s verdict and the subsequent marches and protests in cities across the US.   Still, when we talk about justice, what are we talking about?  Criminal justice or social justice?   How does art help us navigate this terrain or answer this question? What role does it play in our collective expressions of rage or healing? How does it respond to and support our desire for activism?

How have you used art and design to respond to this tragedy? What examples have moved you in recent days?  How do you define justice?

For the next several posts, the Baltimore Art + Justice Project will highlight the ways in which art and design has responded to the question of justice for Trayvon Martin.

Below are some examples across the spectrum of music, visual art and poetry.

“Made You Die” Trayvon Martin Tribute by Yasiin Bey, Dead Prez, MiKEFLO

25 Works Of Art Paying Tribute To Trayvon Martin

Trayvon, Redux, by Rita Dove

Please feel free to share examples by posting them in the comments section.

In Peace-
Kalima Young
Baltimore Art + Justice Project

One response to “Musings On Art And Justice In The Wake Of The George Zimmerman Verdict”

  1. Ashley Milburn says :

    My work, as an art maker, explores images with an urban flavor that convey and reflect the African American experience. Part of that investigation was to understand what the “Hoodie” meant within our youth culture and to the world at large. As a visual art maker and community cultural organizer, I have sought to visualize my community awareness. In 2008, I focused on a visual that seemed to provide avenues for separating cultures – the Hoodie. I had focused on the urban youth culture’s use of, exuberantly large and dress and clothing that hide the human form to illustrate the point. My work, over the last five years, is deeply rooted and informed by the community cultural engagement as a community artist. In creating the images of the Hoodie I have tried to place no judgmental value on what I saw, only to follow the evolution of the form and imagery. What is revealed are forms with a universal connections; echoes of culture. In this recent exploration, I tried to seek metaphors that reflect redemption, renewal, and spirituality. How this realization works itself out as we view urban black cultural is left to the viewer. My hope is that it leads toward an expanded understanding of the social implications of symbolic visual language. I’ve tried to side-step the immediate stereotype and prejudice associated with the Hoodie (Current events point to that relevance).

    Within culture, there are evidences of symbolic visual language. It is profoundly evident in black urban cultural expressions. If examined, without our stereotypes, leading our responses, images arise that seem to connect to a universal expressions for protection, threat, and exalted persona. We find its uses in our cultural designs in weapons, military uniforms, and in ancient times – armory or religious uniform. There seems to be a basic need to make ourselves larger forming a larger persona because we believe we may not be visible.

    This is what I understood before Trayvon was singled out first because he wore a Hoodie and lastly because it seemed to represent the sum of all of white society’s fears. My work since then, has focused on confronting visual racism through art making. I believe that the act of visualizing racism to be a specific and intentional act to directly challenge the physiological impact of racist imagery. The act implies using art and culture as the tool for the re-examination and diffusion of the visual evidence embedded in messaging within racial acts of visual injustice. Visualizing racism is a deliberate attempt to rewrite over the historical body of racist imagery directed toward the dehumanization and victimization of peoples singled out simply because of the color of their skins or other differences used as an excuse to degrade a cultural identity.

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