Unlike the more monolithic Black Lives Matter murals going up around the country, inspired by the street mural first launched in Washington D.C., a new giant 600-foot-long mural in Foley Square in Lower Manhattan is designed by artists and architects, and painted by street artist group TATS CRU and Thrive Collective, a youth arts nonprofit. Our photographer Ilka Müller was out this weekend to document the progress, with additional photographs provided here by the office of Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer and Justin Grant Moore, executive director of the Public Design Commission.
The letters spell out Black Lives Matter but each letter has its own artistic design. The initiative is a collaborative effort between Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer, Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, and WXY Architecture (along with additional support from over two dozen architecture and engineering firms). The local artists — Sophia Dawson, Tijay Mohammed, Patrice Payne and architect Jhordan Channer — were selected with support from the Department of Cultural Affairs’ Percent for Art Program from criteria developed by Black Lives Matter to showcase emerging artists, particularly focusing on LGBTQ artists and women.
The mural starts at the Manhattan Municipal Building and goes north to for three blocks the New York Supreme Court House at Foley Square. According to the office of Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer, the effort took three days of “stenciling, basecoats, drop shadows and artwork” and 180 gallons of paint donated by Janovic Paint & Decorating Center in SoHo and Benjamin Moore. Brewer said: “I chose this location to paint a Black Lives Matter mural because of the history of downtown Manhattan, a site of resistance to slavery and Jim Crow, of gathering places, houses of worship, and workplaces, steps from the African Burial Ground, and in front of institutions in our justice system–from the police to prosecutors to courts…As we bring down symbols of eras of bigotry and oppression all over the country, let us put forth symbols that truly speak to America’s promise of freedom, equality and liberation. Let us set down a marker for our current goals and mark this era for future generations.”
Hawk Newsome, chairman of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York said “We are excited about this tribute to the sustained struggle of those who seek to end racism and liberate Black People from 400 years of oppression. This project is a memorial to those who lost their lives to anti-Blackness and a celebration of those who continue to march toward justice.”
Amina Hassen of WXY Studio said, “Foley Square’s significance for Black Lives Matter is multifold. It has been a place of activism and protest since the movement was christened after the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman in 2013. It sits steps away from the African Burial Ground and Commons Historic District, in front of Artist Lorenzo Pace’s Triumph of the Human Spirit Monument and near African Burial Ground Memorial (designed by Rodney Leon). And it faces the New York County Supreme Court and One Police Plaza—institutions that have and continue to perpetuate anti-Blackness. So I think it’s crucial to say “Black Lives Matter” here, atop the remains of our Black and Indigenous ancestors, confronting institutions whose work in dismantling structural racism and white supremacy is only just beginning.”
Tijay Mohammed, artist who designed the word BLACK, said “The design of ‘BLACK’ incorporates Adinkra symbols and Kente fabric designs which corresponds with its 400-year history in Africa and to pay homage to the African Burial Ground and all our ancestors. The ‘BLACK’ impression in the U.S. stands for humanity, people of color, LGBTQ and any marginalized part of our society.”
Sophia Dawson, artist who designed the word LIVES, said “I chose to feature mothers who I have had the privilege of meeting and working with over the past eight years of addressing this issue through my work. Gwen Carr and Lisha Garner, mother and sister of Eric Garner, Lesley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, Constance Malcolm, mother of Ramarley Graham and Iris Baez, mother of Anthony Baez are all portrayed in the letter “L.” I also included a portrait of a young George Floyd and his mother.”
Patrice Payne, artist who designed the word MATTER said, “For the Black Lives Matter Mural Project, I was presented to create a design for the word MATTER. One definition for matter is “to be of importance or to have significance”. This word highlights what the Black community strives for and evokes the various experiences we face, regarding our presence, not only in the United States, but globally. I wanted my design to identify what our ancestors had encountered in the past — enduring pain and adversity but seeking freedom and happiness and how we can move forward to envision a better and brighter future, both near and distant.”
Justin Garrett Moore, executive director of the Public Design Commission said “The Black Lives Matter mural at New York’s Civic Center is a strong, beautiful, and necessary message. This collaboration by activists, artists, and designers demands that our city and nation do more to realize justice. With intentionality and care, Black leaders and allies from the grassroots to government worked together to build trust and remake ‘our streets’ into a space that reflects the people, power, and potential that make New York City great.”
Other Black Lives Murals in Manhattan led by Mayor Bill de Blasio are planned or in process, including one in Harlem that had tire track damage over the weekend, and one planned tentatively for 5th Avenue in front of Trump Tower.
Next, check out the Black Lives Matter Mural that’s in Brooklyn.