Several local Black artists joined the approximately 7,000 attendees of the June 5 protest against police brutality in Bloomington. They have contributed to the recent protests in a multitude of ways: making signs, creating graphics for social media campaigns, chalking, raising funds, painting murals, writing poems and more.
Kayleigh Dance, a food photographer, self-described “small influencer” and IU Office of Enrollment Management social media specialist, has been using her Instagram platform to pressure local restaurants into publicly stating their support for the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests.
After the most recent protests broke out, following the May 25 death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, Dance said she was initially at a loss for how to tie her advocacy for herself and her community to her art, so she paused her work and attended a protest in Indianapolis.
A few days later, she noticed that a lot of the local small businesses she had worked with in Bloomington had remained silent, even as national outrage grew.
“That stung a bit,” she said. “Now, I’m making sure that businesses that I have personal ties to are learning that their silence is being seen as complicity.”
On the Thursday before the protest, Dance posted one of her photographs to Instagram with a caption calling on businesses to show their support. She said that two businesses, Bedräk Cafe and the Village Deli, posted about their support shortly after following her or liking her post, and that the owner of Bedräk Cafe opened their parking lot to protesters and attended the event.
Claudia Hodges, a mixed-media artist and interior design student at IU, said that they are contributing to the protest movement and associated causes financially, with the proceeds from sales of a print of their work. Like Dance, they too were initially not sure how to use their art to contribute, as most of their art does not have any explicitly political meaning.
“I live as a Black person in America,” Hodges said. “I don’t want my art to always be centered on it — I want art as an escape.”
However, they said they made a collage six months ago utilizing an image from a 1947 issue of National Geographic that included a skull labeled “negro,” and that since posting it on June 1, they have sold eight or nine prints for $35 each and donated the proceeds to causes including Black Lives Matter, bail funds and funds to support homeless trans women.
“Art is an avenue for protest,” Hodges said. “It’s not the only avenue, it’s not the only ways to get the message across, but it is vital. It inspires, it informs, and it comforts, and I want my art to do all of that.”
Hodges said they are currently focusing their energy more on reading, informing, and educating than on art.
“As much as my art says something, it doesn’t say explicitly what to do or how to take care of Black people,” Hodges said.
With his painted vest, unique sign, and a matching tattoo, Malcolm Mobutu Smith, a sculptor and associate professor of fine arts at IU, stood out even in the massive crowd.
He was marching with a sign that read “Li’l Tuffy Standing Proud,” with a cartoon drawing of a Black kid that he said his mother, Jean Forrester, designed in 1971, when she realized that there were no coloring books with people of color in them for her children. He was also showcasing a matching Li’l Tuffy tattoo on his right arm.
“Being a Black man, being an educator, being an artist alone is a political act, as a person of color,” Smith said.
He added that his work has not changed as a result of recent events, because it has always been inspired by the cultures of African peoples and Black art forms including jazz and hip-hop.
While Smith said his existence alone is political, he added that he was on the streets Friday to represent, because something has to change. He said that he has lived in Bloomington for 20 years, but that this was his first time attending a protest here.
“Gotta be brave enough to stand on the street with everyone else, even though parts of me want to go and hide,”he said.