NEW YORK — A billboard depicting the death of George Floyd went up in Times Square on Tuesday, placed there by the George Floyd Justice Billboard Committee, which hopes to expand with more across the country.
With “FLOYD,” a painting by Donald Perlis, above a quotation from the Dalai Lama, the 26-foot-by-24-foot billboard is meant to spark discussions about human rights, regardless of how jarring the scene may be, Corinne Basabe, chairwoman of the committee, said in an interview.
“We wouldn’t have the movement that we have today if that video wasn’t so graphic,” Basabe said, referring to this year’s Black Lives Matter protests, which began after a bystander video of Floyd’s death surfaced, showing a white police officer handcuffing and pinning Floyd to the ground with his knee. That officer, Derek Chauvin, has since been charged with second-degree murder, and three other officers involved were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
The billboard is joining others that are filling empty advertising spaces in various cities in the United States.
“You can’t control a billboard,” Basabe said. “You can’t turn it off; you can’t turn the page. It’s going to be in your face as you walk down the block.”
Basabe reached out to Perlis about the project when she saw his painting this summer at the Green Kill performance space in Kingston, New York. “FLOYD” will be on display at the Salomon Arts Gallery in Manhattan.
Perlis, a white New York artist, often depicts civil unrest, with works focusing on topics like the death of Michael Griffith at Howard Beach in Queens, the Central Park Five and the #MeToo movement.
“I’m aware of the legitimate concern and anxiety about cultural appropriation, but I feel this is a general human concern and should be a concern for all Americans,” Perlis said. “It’s American history.”
As he condensed the video of Floyd’s death into a single image, Perlis said that he hoped his intention would prevent the painting from seeming too lurid.
“The paintings of the Christian martyrs are devastating, and the paintings of the Crucifixion are devastating, and they’re necessary in order to make people think about human cruelty,” Perlis said, “and they’re portraying human cruelty as a call for human compassion.”
Basabe, who is Black, said that when she selected Perlis’ painting, his race never crossed her mind as an issue.
“The job of artists is to expose what’s going on in society,” Basabe said. “Whether you’re white or Black, if you’re doing that, you’re doing what you’re supposed to do as an artist.”