THE POWER OF ART TO HEAL RACISM
As we continue to look for new ways to heal the systemic racism in our country, we feel it is important to acknowledge the immense power of visual art to affect people in deep and profound ways.
Visual art, whether it be images, videos, or simple symbols, speaks to the human psyche in a very deep place beyond the logical mind. It penetrates into our subconscious mind, which is mostly based in images. We in fact are incredibly impacted by the images that we see, so much so that major corporations through advertising and social media technologies abuse this to their advantage to throw our attention and desires in certain directions.
However we can absolutely use the power of images through art and its effect on the subconscious to create a new paradigm of equality and justice. Positive images plant seeds of inspiration while continual negative images keep us agitated and in conflict.
For instance, here in the city of Richmond, VA, you can drive by the Robert E. Lee Statue on Monument Avenue, a major focal point of the battle over whether or not to take down the Confederate Statues. For many, the grandiose statue, in its original manifestation, represented white superiority and an undying attachment that the city and many residents had to maintaining the status quo of inequality. And certainly a reminder to black folks that they are in a place that was the homestead of the fight to maintain slavery and the oppression of their ancestors.
However now it has transformed. Currently the statue is covered with art and graffiti expressing the struggle and fight for justice for the black community. Lining the base of the statue are memorials to people like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor who have been murdered at the hands of police brutality. At night there have been projections onto the statue of powerful black leaders in the fight against oppression such as Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, and John Lewis. And at this moment it has evolved into a community gathering space with a community garden, musical performances, and pick-up sports.
So now the symbolism of this living, breathing art piece (that has been renamed Marcus David Peters Circle, in homage to a young black man that was killed in Richmond in 2018 by police) is currently representing a place supportive of transformation, healing, and hope for many. And one glance at it to passersby continues to water the seed of a new reality based in truly supportive community and love and respect for all people.
And just a stone’s throw away, in front of the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, is a more recently installed statue of a modernly dressed young black man riding atop a horse (in a similar style to the old Confederate statues) created by Kehinde Wiley. This was his offering to the city (once) lined with Confederate Monuments. The beauty in this piece is that it wakes up the onlooker to the culturally engrained experience of only seeing white males portrayed in this way. Its wakefulness is another beautiful example of how art can create change.
So we can continue to transform old symbols of inequality and oppression (such as Confederate statues) and create new visual anchors for justice, equality, and inspiration. In this vain we highly recommend supporting local artists that are activists, creating art yourself, and sharing inspiring, educational, and healing images and videos with your friends and family.
At a time when there is much uncertainty in regards to our future, let us use our creativity and art to call in the new reality that we desire.
Professor Angela Chamblee & Nick Lasky