A tear gas canister, labeled "Don't let anyone convince you that non-violence is ineffective." George Floyd's face in blue, surrounded by "re" words ("repair, resolve, remake"). A reimagined scene from the Wizard of Oz with this text: "All Mothers Were Summoned When George Floyd Called Out for His Momma."
These billboards hover over the intersection of 38th and Chicago, where George Floyd's life was cut short last year.
Twin Cities artists Xavier Tavera, Seitu Jones and Jim Denomie designed the billboards as part of the Social Justice Billboard Project initiated last July by NE Sculpture Gallery Factory with the intention of elevating the voices of BIPOC artists.
This new series was unveiled Sunday, a day when the messages would soon feel immediately relevant with the death of Daunte Wright.
Tavera's design was inspired by protests last summer. He picked up a tear gas canister used by Minneapolis police outside the 3rd precinct on the night after Floyd's death at the hands of Derek Chauvin, the former officer now on trial for murder.
"I think the timing is precise because all of us are bracing for what's going to happen in the next couple of weeks with the trial," he said. "Hopefully it brings the message to people that no matter what they throw us, we can keep the peace, we can have heated discussions about issues, and we can disagree, all non-violently."
Jones' billboard is based on #blues4george, the portrait he did 10 months ago that allows people to download a stencil and paint their own blue-hued images of Floyd.
The title is also a reference to famed agricultural scientist George Washington Carver. "He re-discovered Egyptian blue, and of all the things he patented, one of them was a formula to that color," said Jones. "So it's actually blues for two Georges."
Denomie's billboard came about as a result of the pandemic and the uprising following Floyd's death. He had originally started the painting in November 2019, but the pandemic delayed four of his five upcoming exhibitions. He put the painting away, but returned to it last summer when the energy of the uprising and toppling of colonial monuments were fresh in his mind.
"The title of the painting is 'Toppled Monuments,' " he said. "Then this wolf chasing the two rabbits in the background, that's police brutality. That figure at the lower right represents that statement: 'All mothers were summoned when George Floyd called out for his momma.' "
Denomie was inspired by a sign he saw online of a woman carrying at a protest. He felt the Chauvin trial opened a wound again, and looks forward to it being over.
NE Sculpture Gallery Factory director John Hock said Clear Channel offered a significant discount on the billboards, but also joked that they required a few changes. He pointed to Denomie's billboard. A nude woman had stars over her breasts and the text on a kid's shirt looked slightly off.
"They made us put stars over Jim's ladies," he said. "And the kid with the T-shirt that says 'hit' — well, it didn't used to say that. It's missing a letter."
The Social Justice Billboard Project was inspired by Peyton Scott Russell's "Icon of a Revolution" mural, which was bolted to the side of a bus stop at 38th and Chicago the week after Floyd's death.
The George Floyd Global Memorial intends to preserve all the billboards.
A "re-memory" experience of the offerings from George Floyd Square are currently on view in the exhibition "Still Here… Unstolen. Unbroken" at the front gallery at the Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center.