The street art showcases the diversity of Charlotte’s artists
Charlotte, North Carolina, woke up this week to new street art with a powerful message.
After 11 nights of protests in response to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and others who died at the hands of police officers, a group of artists pulled together to articulate their own response. A team of 22 street artists and countless helpers painted on the 200 block of S. Tryon Street: BLACK LIVES MATTER.
The street art illustrates the power of creativity when artists, nonprofits — and even a local government — come together. The project was led by Brand the Moth and BLKMRKTCLT in partnership with Charlotte Is Creative and the City of Charlotte. The idea was conceived and completed in less than four days from start to finish.
Artist Dari Calamari shared just how meaningful it was to be a part of the street art.
“I’m just overwhelmed with the impact and the profoundness of this piece, of this moment in time, of this mark on history that we’ve made,” she said. “…The best thing we can do is to show up completely as ourselves…Whatever gifts, whatever disciplines, whatever ideas you have, whatever you feel your mission on this earth at this time is, hone in on that and put that out into the world.”
For Calamari, that gift is art. “I know my art is here to heal, my art is here to uplift, and my art will lead me to the ways that I can make the biggest impact on the planet. And I think these past couple days have really solidified that. Because you can’t go wrong when you’re following your bliss. You can’t.”
Learn about the artists behind each letter and how you can support their work.
B – Dammit Wesley
For the “B,” artist Dammit Wesley said he used Storm from the X-Men to highlight the plight of black people in America. The quote at the top of the letter reads: “Do I not matter? Will I ever? Why won’t you love me America?’
L – Dakotah Aiyanna
Artist Dakotah Aiyanna created what she calls a “flower person” on the “L.” She says of the design, “I believe all black people are wildflowers because of our adaptability to regrow wherever the world tries to place or throw us.”
A – Zacc McLean and Ty Adams
Artists Zacc McLean and Ty Adams painted a black woman and a black sheep on the “A.” McLean said of the design, “The black sheep is oftentimes misrepresented, misheard/unheard, regarded as odd or stereotyped. But, the wool of the black sheep is just as warm, and just as useful. So we also drew the black woman because in many ways she is treated the same.”
C – Abel Jackson
For his part, artist Abel Jackson created a silhouette of Tommie Smith. Smith was a track and field athlete who raised his fist during the 1968 Olympics on behalf of the fight for human rights.
Jackson says of his design, “What that did in protest to conditions in America led to great criticism because at that time America and the world did not want to address inequality. They wanted to sweep it under the rug and ignore it. Now, the fight for equality can’t be ignored.”
K – Garrison Gist
Artist Garrison Gist’s artwork as part of the street art depicts Deadpool, the crass American superhero. Gist says he chose Deadpool as a metaphor for his generation. “If you know anything about Deadpool, you know he’s rebellious, outspoken, radical. I feel like that’s our generation right now with this movement.”
L – Owl and Arko
Artists Owl and Arko’s design shows fists in the air amid protest signs in both English and Spanish. On Arko’s Instagram page, she shares more about the work: “We stand with all our brothers and sisters who suffer from a system made to hold down certain groups. We chose L because we are Latinos supporting black lives matter.”
I – Kyle Mosher (assisted by Zachery Peele_
Artist Kyle Mosher led the effort to paint the “I,” with the help of artist Zachery Peele.
“Today was surreal,” Kyle wrote on his Instagram page Wednesday. “Honored and humbled to be apart of this. I cannot thank all the organizers, volunteers, and artists enough. We showed out and put our city on the map.”
V – Franklin Kernes (assisted by Lo’Vonia Parks)
Artist Lo’Vonia Parks, who helped Franklin Kernes, with the artwork on the “V,” said the little girl depicts the younger generation cheering on and pushing for change.
“…you can’t spell ‘heart’ without ‘art’ … and yesterday that showed,” Parks said.
E – Kiana Mui
Artist Kiana Mui blended her love of Anime to design the “E.”
“Another inspiration of mine during this project was to set an example for the BLM movement as well as opening the eyes of those who continue to say All Lives Matter and understand how insensitive it to use it against the BLM movement,” she says. “I will continue to use my art to inspire others in all forms.”
S – Marcus Kiser and Jason Woodberry
Artists Marcus Kiser and Jason Woodberry joined forces to create the “S.” They said they wanted to create a propaganda-style design and, with bold red and black, allude to a revolution vibe.
As Woodberry says, “Marcus and I are not fighting systemic racism for ourselves. We’re trying to set the stage for the next generation of children of color so they can exist without repressed emotions and fear.”
M – Georgie Nakima
Artist Georgie Nakima’s design on the “M” shows bold, colorful geometric shapes. Nakima has always combined her interest in biology with her love of art.
She writes on her website, gardenofjourney.com: “If anything, learning the gateways of nature and geometrical patterns was enlightening; my studies really nurtured my sense of wonder and research. Today, I’m empowered to plant seeds of art and science together in hopes to carry conversations of well-being, nature preservation, and humanity.”
A – Matthew Clayburn
Artist Matthew Clayburn’s design shows raised fists surrounding a heart. He said it’s meant to offer a unifying message.
“Voices are heard louder when unified rather than separated. It’s important for us to move together forward against hatred and violence, instead of repeating the cycle,” he says.
T – Frankie Zombie
Artist Frankie Zombie’s design mirrors his pop-art style that he’s become known for. He told Charlotte is Creative that, as a kid, he loved “The Jetsons.” But as he grew up, he wanted to not just paint black characters in cartoons. “I chose to BE the black character that changed the narrative of the cartoon. I started painting and creating my own pallets that were inspired by the cartoon. Now each piece I create brings people together for conversations and understanding of each other’s culture for a bigger purpose of love.”
T – CHD:WCK!
Artist CHD:WCK! created a bold red “T” with the words “There is no change without disruption,” written in white. He said that line “speaks to the fact that problems and problematic behaviors usually come from a problematic way of thinking about things. You’re not going to be able to build better habits or solve problems with old problematic thinking. You have to disrupt your own habits and views in order to change.”
E – John Hariston Jr.
Artist John Hariston Jr. described his piece of the mural as a celebration of the fallen and a love letter to the city of Charlotte. He said the design was inspired by him mourning the loss of children’s innocence who are now seeing that racism is still very much engrained in our society.
“The hardest pill for me to swallow was that I thought as a society that we would have made more progress than this. It’s a slow process, but there’s motion in a brighter direction. So, I would encourage them to continue on and learn from our mistakes.”
R – Dari Calamari
Artist Dari Calamari is an abstract artists who likes to keep her work open for interpretation. She tells Charlotte is Creative, “Whether it brings out memories of fire, warmth, the sun or butterfly wings or something else entirely, all are valid as each person has their personal view on what my work looks like to them, I follow my intuitive flow and authentic expression and allow it translate into my work.”
Editor’s note: Photos were used with permission from John Merrick Media and Charlotte is Creative.
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Journalist and author Danielle Nadler grew up in South Dakota, where a patient writing teacher fostered in her a love for stories told well. She's worked for newspapers in the Midwest, on the West Coast and the East Coast, and recently launched a storytelling company called Tales and Ales.