Talk Description to Me

Episode 48 - The Derek Chauvin Verdict and George Floyd Tribute Art

April 21, 2021 Christine Malec and JJ Hunt Season 2 Episode 48
Talk Description to Me
Episode 48 - The Derek Chauvin Verdict and George Floyd Tribute Art
Chapters
0:46
Chauvin Trial Verdict
6:23
George Floyd Tribute Art
Talk Description to Me
Episode 48 - The Derek Chauvin Verdict and George Floyd Tribute Art
Apr 21, 2021 Season 2 Episode 48
Christine Malec and JJ Hunt

On April 20, 2021, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all counts in the death of George Floyd, a murder which sparked protests across the U.S. and fuelled the Black Lives Matter movement around the world. In this episode, Christine and JJ discuss the visuals surrounding the trial's conclusion, then describe the wave of tribute art, which seeks to honour and memorialize George Floyd.


Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/TalkDescriptionToMe)

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

On April 20, 2021, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all counts in the death of George Floyd, a murder which sparked protests across the U.S. and fuelled the Black Lives Matter movement around the world. In this episode, Christine and JJ discuss the visuals surrounding the trial's conclusion, then describe the wave of tribute art, which seeks to honour and memorialize George Floyd.


Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/TalkDescriptionToMe)

JJ Hunt:

Talk description to me with Christine Malec and JJ Hunt.

Christine Malec:

Hi, I'm Christine Malec.

JJ Hunt:

And I'm JJ Hunt. This is talk description to Me where the visuals of current events and the world around us get hashtag in description rich conversations.

Christine Malec:

JJ and I are recording on the day after the historic verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial. And what we thought we would do today is walk through some of the visuals around the the preparations for the trial of a little bit from the trial itself. And then we wanted to talk about some of the tribute art that has arisen around this case. And so, JJ, do you want to start maybe by describing what Minneapolis looked like in preparation for the verdict?

JJ Hunt:

So according to The Washington Post, more than 3000 National Guard troops and 1100 other public safety officers were called into Minneapolis in anticipation of the verdict. And the images are, sadly what we've come to expect in situations like this right? Troops in full camouflage fatigues. So helmets, body armor, heavy weaponry, parts of the city were fenced off. I've got a photo here from the New York Magazine, which has been taken through a temporary chain link fence, and the fence has razor wire woven through the links. Just, you know, we've talked a lot about these images before we've described a lot of them and it is what we've seen before shopfronts boarded over streets empty, emptied, essentially shut down. And then outside the courthouse, large groups were gathered in anticipation of the verdict. There'd been protests and gatherings outside the courthouse every day of the trial. But you know, there were even larger groups are while the jury was, you know, was reaching their verdict. The groups outside the courthouse had black lives, matter signs, posters and portraits of George Floyd. Signs reading, "I can't breathe", I spotted one sign that read "Nothing to lose, but our chains." And it was a fairly diverse crowd. Most people wearing COVID masks. So that's kind of the scene as as everyone was preparing for the verdict.

Christine Malec:

And what kind of visuals were we getting from inside the courtroom?

JJ Hunt:

Inside the courtroom. I was kind of surprised if this was not a stately courtroom. This was much more kind of makeshift and utilitarian. So the the tables that everyone was sitting at were very simple laminate tables with pleated black fabric around the front and sides. It was almost like the kind of tables you would see it in a convention hall or something like that. And there were plexiglass partitions to keep people separated. So in the middle of of one of these tables, there would be a partition, so that you could have two people seated at the same table and all the tables were kind of spread out these very bland cream colored walls. It looked to me like maybe dark gray industrial carpet, so the courtroom was gonna say utilitarian, this was not a grand court Hall, a courtroom that you see sometimes in in movies and TV. So Derek Chauvin, a fit white man with close cropped hair. He was wearing a dark gray suit with a blue tie. And he had on a pale blue surgical mask during the final day of the proceedings. The judge is a middle aged white man with thinning gray hair and glasses. And he actually used a letter opener to unseal the manila envelope that held the verdict. And while the judge was reading the verdict, Derek Chauvin sat in his seat, absolutely still. He had a knit brow and his eyes were darting back and forth above his COVID mask. But there was no discernible reaction to the three guilty verdicts, just this eye movement. And I actually timed it. It took the judge over one minute to read the verdicts on all three charges. And the only thing that moved in that in that minute What were his eyes, his eyes darting back and forth, otherwise his body was absolutely still and then the trial ended. With a show of hands, hands being cuffed behind his back by a court officer who was wearing a tan and brown uniform, and he was led away.

Christine Malec:

This verdict was, of course, highly anticipated, what kinds of reactions did we see on the streets according to the visuals that you saw.

JJ Hunt:

So outside the courthouse, people were huddled around their phones and small groups of groups of three or four people huddled around, you know, watching or listening to their phones. And in the moment when the verdict was being read, of course, they were spontaneous, cheers people cheered. And then chants began. But visually, there was a lot of hugging people were sobbing. And, you know, again, lots of people wearing masks, but still, in that moment, getting very close and personal with one another and holding each other up, like while they're hugging and sobbing, literally holding each other up. Because the emotion was so great. It looked like some people might drop. And so that was really, in the immediate moment of the verdict being read that it was it was very personal, it seemed a very physical for people, that was what I was seeing when I watched it live.

Christine Malec:

Now we're going to talk about some of the tribute art, which I didn't know about until JJ and I were preparing for this episode. So this is new information for me as well. But I understand that some of it is very difficult. And so just a bit of a trigger warning that some of this stuff, maybe hard to hear. So, JJ, where should we start? This is all new for me.

JJ Hunt:

Let's start with with what was probably the first George Floyd mural and certainly one of the most prominent. This is a mural that was painted on the side of a neighborhood grocery store called cup foods. This is in Minneapolis just down the street from where George Floyd was murdered. And it was painted by a group of community artists Cadex Herrera, Gretta McLean, and Xena Goldman. And this mural became a real focal point for people to gather at and to leave flowers. And I've got images here of, of just piles of flowers and notes of prayer and signs of protests gathered in front of this mural on the side of a very unassuming neighborhood grocery store. And this mural was then also digitized and was used as the backdrop in the church for George Floyd's memorial service. So this was a very prominent mural. It features a head and shoulders portrait of George Floyd, backed by a sunflower on a sky blue background, and he is flanked by his first and last name. So this image this this portrait of George Floyd is actually based on the snapshot that all of the news reports seem to have of George Floyd. So most signs, most posters, most portraits of George Floyd are based on this one image. So he has a very strong chin, full lips, deep smile lines that delineate his cheeks that lead from just above his wide nostrils down toward the corner, the corners of his mouth, his brow is quite pronounced, and his eyes have heavy lids. So his eyes are often in shadow in many of the portraits, he has very short hair, and an unwrinkled forehead, this this particular image, he is a big man, and this particular portrait does show off his his size, he's a big, strong black man. And that that is clear in all of these images. In this particular mural, George Floyd is centered, he's got the black circle representing the center of the open sunflower right behind him. And then the leaves of the sun, the petals, pardon me of the sunflower, all around that. And inside this black circle, is white writing. At the top, it says, "Say our names", and then there's a long list of people's names written, you know, that just absolutely filled as the black circle in the center of the sunflower. And then George is written in large block letters on our left Floyd on our right, and these are big rounded block letters in an orange color, that diminish in size as they get closer to the center. So kind of, you know, directing our eye toward George Floyd's face. And inside those letters are faceless blue figures, many with their fists raised in the air and the black power salute, and then in very unassuming letters near the bottom of the mural. Right overtop of the chest and of George Floyd's hoodie is, is the very simple phrase "I can breathe now." And that is the mural that that is quite close to the scene of his murder.

Christine Malec:

I'm interested in your description of the smile lines. And since you say that this particular image of George Floyd is is used in many other iterations of of art and Memorial, is he smiling? Like, what's the expression does his face have an expression?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, so he's not smiling. But his chin looks like it's jutting forward a little bit. And it looks like the lighting in this image was coming from above. And when you put the light up above, with a fairly heavy brow, the distinct smile lines and the chin forward, shadows fall in a certain way. So it makes those smile lines look quite clear. it casts his eyes in shadow, but it's got very heavy lids on his eyes. So the eyelids become clear. And then he has a very, very, it's, it's hard to tell sometimes if it's actually a partial beard. So a very, perhaps very thin mustache that hugs the upper lip, but then kind of comes down from the corners of his mouth down under his chin. It's so faint, it might just be shadow. And I think one of the reasons this picture became one that was used so many times by so many different artists is because of the the light from above the shadows delineating the different features of his face. It is easily replicable. It works very well in spray paint and in block shapes. It's a very strong picture. He's got a strong expression on his face, a slightly defiant chin forward. Because his chin is forward the bottom half of his face looks larger than the top half of his head. There's just there's a real strength to to this picture. But no, not a snot a smile as such, just a fairly neutral expression, I would say.

Christine Malec:

And so this is spray painted. So is this a representation of an existing photograph? This isn't the photograph itself?

JJ Hunt:

No, that's right. This is this is a representation of that photo, as most of them are. So on lots of signs. They're either hand painted signs or graphic artists. In the days after his murder, were posting their versions of this photo, on on Instagram and on Twitter and saying please use these however you will. So people then took those images, adjusted them, tweak them themselves, maybe did paintings of them, put put them in poster form, took them to their own neighborhoods, and use these images to create their own murals. In Houston, for example, his hometown that was a mural painted on a brown brick wall. And it features a monochrome portrait of George Floyd in his hoodie, this exact same image, but it's in monochrome. And because of the way the shadows fall to black and white in grays, it works really well to create this kind of portrait. This time, George Floyd has given white angel wings, and it's set against the sky blue backdrop. So that's where the color comes in, in the blue backdrop, and he has a halo like ring over his head, and the ring his words that say Forever, forever breathing in our hearts. And I actually found this image of this mural in a CNN article, and it showed to Houston Police officers both themselves big barrel chested black men posing in front of the mural, above a caption that notes that they were there to pay their respects. So that's how a lot of these things happen. People created these murals from this, almost the same image in their own towns and cities all around the world. In Toronto in June of 20 2040 graffiti artists from around the city met at graffiti alley Do you know graffiti alley in Toronto?

Christine Malec:

I don't.

JJ Hunt:

It's an alleyway near Queen Street, downtown. It's very well known for its street art. And these 40 graffiti artists dubbed this event paint the city black and organizers invited artists to fill the space with art that would speak to the injustices of anti black racism and police violence. So some people painted murals of Canadian people of color who had lost their lives in violent encounters with the police. And of course, the murder of George Floyd was directly addressed in the portrait that was painted of him here. He stares straight at us and he has worn brown eyes as a color portrait, he's got warm brown eyes. And there's a dark band that covers his mouth. It's a it's a dark gray, it looks like a strip of duct tape. And on it are dripping white letters which read I can't breathe. Of course, that's a, you know, very common refrain. One of his last things that he said and it appears all over the place that very similar mural painted in Los Angeles, the same type of mural, but in that portrait, George Floyd has blue tears running from his eyes, and there's a red banner that reads I can't breathe covering his mouth. There, there were murals all over in Gaza City, a portrait of George Floyd was painted on a white plaster wall. And above his head are two hands, one light skinned one dark skinned, making a heart above his head, and the white hand is bound with barbed wire. I found a photo of a of a destroyed building in Idlib S ria. This is really not much mo e than a pile of rubble. But the e's one partial cement pillar eft standing, it's got exposed twisted rebar sticking out of t. And someone painted a portrai of George Floyd there on this cement pillar and the phrases "I can't breathe" and "No to r cism" are there. I found stre t portraits in Kenya, Engl nd, Pakistan, Northern Irel nd, Belgium, Berlin, Italy, Spai , Israel, all over the worl .

Christine Malec:

Wow. I'm always touched and moved by tributes that people leave. And earlier you mentioned that the mural in Minneapolis often has flowers left on it, is that something common that you see in images of other memorials for him?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, there are. You know, when you scan social media looking for these images, these tributes, they are places where people congregate. So sometimes there are people posing like those, you know, the two cops in Houston that they wanted to pose with a picture of, and take their own picture. With this mural, they're often flowers and note cards. And, you know, people want to connect and these if you're elsewhere in the world, this can be a place where you can meet whether there's no grave site, there is no grave marker to go to. This is where you can congregate. And so there are lots of pictures of stacks of flowers and note cards. And there are usually protest signs that are kind of stuck into the pile. And you know, it can be as simple as one or two flowers, individual flowers, and in some cases, there can be absolute piles, mounds of bouquets and note cards and placards.

Christine Malec:

Now what are some of the other notable art tributes that you've seen?

JJ Hunt:

Well, murals were certainly at the heart of this, there was a real wave of black lives matter and George Floyd street art after his murder, and murals were at the heart of it. But there was other street art and other kinds of artistic responses to this as well. And some of it was, honestly, really kind of out there. I found two different references to airplane based art projects around the murder of George Floyd, there was a pilot in Nova Scotia, who flew his private plane in a precise flight path in the shape of a raised fist. He had contacted a flight tracking website in advance and told them he was going to do this. So they tracked it in real time. And you can see on their screen, there's a video of it where they've got a satellite image of the province of Nova Scotia. And you see this blue streak over the satellite image. It's his flight path. And as he's flying, it's like he's drawing. This line drawing, a very powerful line drawing of a raised fist in the air. And that was his personal tribute to George Floyd. This Black Power salute in an airplane tracking situation. Very unusual. And on on May 30, there was an Arts Collective that hired five planes to fly in five US cities, with banners featuring George Floyd's final words being pulled behind the

plane. So between 11:

30am and 9pm people in Los Angeles looked up at the sky and found the phrase "My stomach hurts" being pulled from a plane overhead. In Dallas the banner read, "My neck hurts." In Miami, "everything hurts" and then in New York City, "they're going to kill me." This flew over these cities, these messages, George Floyd's final words flown over the cities.

Christine Malec:

Ooof.

JJ Hunt:

In December, in Quebec, an artist spent 60 hours sculpting a giant bust of George Floyd on his front lawn out of snow.

Christine Malec:

Oh my God!

JJ Hunt:

Really odd. 10 foot tall, perfectly executed, easily recognizable bust of George Floyd.

Christine Malec:

Whoa.

JJ Hunt:

And in Quebec! I mean, it was a strange but seemingly very earnest tribute to the man.

Christine Malec:

Wow

JJ Hunt:

I know really odd. And then in Israel, there was an artist who rendered a bust of George Floyd. That focused not on his face in life, which is what most of the portraits we've talked about focus on. But this artist in Israel decided to focus on George Floyd's face and head in the moment that he was lying pinned to the street with his cheek pressed into the ashphalt. I believe it's cast metal, it's dark gray in color. And in this particular rendering his facial muscles are limp, his eyes are closed. And it's just his head. He has no body and in place of a neck, the artist has rendered these very fine rings like that, like the rings in a tree. It's it's really a very haunting, I mean, can even say disturbing rendering of George Floyd it's really quite a quite up quite a moving piece. In in the National Geographic. They featured a photo of a statue on the cover of their 2020 year in review issue. This is a statue in Richmond, Virginia, it features the Confederate General Lee on horseback, a top of a tall carved stone plinth. But the statue has been absolutely blanketed with graffiti. There's so much overlapping graffiti, you really can't even read it. And I think they actually blurred out some of the some of the graffiti to obscure language that was deemed unfit for the cover of National Geographic. But this whole statue plinth, the stone plinth is covered in graffiti. And the photo was taken at dusk, so there are pale copper colored clouds in the dark sky in the background. And the statue was lit with a projection. It's the face of George Floyd projected on to this carved graffiti covered stone plinth. In this image, his eyes are closed. He's got the shadowed eyes, his wide nose and his full lips are evident. And of course he's very recognizable, you know instantly that this is George Floyd. And he looks quite calm in this projection. He looks quite calm. Personally, I would say there's a peaceful quality to his expression. And the letters b l m Black Lives Matter have been projected onto General Robert E. Lee's horse. Lee, of course, was the commander of the Confederate Army. The intricate carvings and the graffiti on this stone plinth have a really interesting effect on the image that's projected over top because you can see the graffiti and his face and the carvings all at the same time. And together it makes it look like an ancient monument of this face, of George Floyd's face. It reminds me of the carved faces of Buddha, that you'll find at ancient temples in Southeast Asia or in India. It's really quite a brilliant piece of art that presents George Floyd as this monumental figure, where he is literally layered over angry screams of protests from members of the black community among other people. And this eclipses an kind of redrafts this statue o the Confederate General who le the fight to keep slaves. Georg Floyd, the monumental figure o this statue

Christine Malec:

"Whistle." W en we were talking before we started recording, you men ioned that you're starting to see George Floyd's face paired with other faces that are recogn zable. Can you say something

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, you know, a lot o the murals we've talked about re just focused solely on Geo ge Floyd but he's also being in luded. in in in a Other groupin s of, of civil rights leader . So I've seen murals where t's Martin Luther King Jr. and alcolm X and Rosa Parks and Geo ge Floyd, where he's grouped ogether in these tributes to h m as an individual. But als , you know, referencing movemen s, the civil rights movemen , that does seem to be a bit of a trend. I've seen multiple ver ions of that, mostly in t e US, mostly in the States. The tributes that I saw internati nally tended to be ust him as an individual. Bu in different parts of the US e is being included in visua s with with civil rights le ders from decades ago.

Christine Malec:

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Chauvin Trial Verdict
George Floyd Tribute Art