Since the death of George Floyd, the floodgates have opened for Black Lives Matter-themed murals covering walls across Dallas and beyond. But what does the future hold for these works, once the boarded up windows are reopened?
Many local murals were spearheaded by notable local artist IZK Davies, who began a coalition called Dallas Army of Artists. While Davies has painted BLM murals across the country in the past, he began Dallas Army of Artists as a collective effort for local artists to contribute to the city. The Black Lives Matter movement became particularly influential to the group's mission.
One of the contributing artists in the collective is Jamie Dean, who produced three BLM-themed murals over the past few months in Deep Ellum. Her first mural features two young children of Black and white descent holding hands with the words “I love you so much” in the middle. Channeling the words from the famous mural in Austin, the artist applied the phrase to the current movement, leaning on the concept that children don’t see racism the same way adults do.
Dean's other two murals include an image of a young Black girl that's accompanied by inspirational words, and another features two hands, Black and white, coming together across the top, with an image of Marvin Gaye along with lyrics from one of his songs.
“I mean, I’m just a little white girl,” the artist says, “so with that in mind, I didn’t want it to be too politically charged. I thought something like music could signify unity and be beautiful at the same time, for all who viewed it.”
The pieces she created will be removed once the business they rest upon reopens and takes down the plywood. And, being “just a little white girl,” Dean saw the importance of donating the works to the movement as she believes the message might have a greater significance to the business owners who bought the plywood and requested the works. Dean hopes her work will eventually be auctioned off or donated to a gallery.
One of the major local artists who has contributed to the movement is Gabriel Thomas, who has different plans for the murals he's created since protests began in Dallas at the end of May. Since then, he has painted 15 or more BLM-themed pieces across downtown and Deep Ellum. Some of these murals range from symbolic designs to tributes to those killed by police brutality.
“I’ve been busy. I was just fired up by the uprising,” says the artist, whose first mural in his latest series was a four-piece depiction of Floyd, Atatiana Jefferson, Botham Jean and Jordan Edwards. The mural sits on a storefront on Elm Street in Deep Ellum, and this work was followed by other murals featuring other icons of the movement, including Sandra Bland and Modesto Reyes.
“I wanted to express myself on how I’ve seen it in my point of view," Thomas says. "Racism has fueled my passion to continue to do what I do many times. That’s my background; it’s passion and ambition, and racism has been fuel for me to keep going and spreading my word.”
Thomas has also done murals of Tupac Shakur, President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. alongside quotes on equality. Some of his more controversial designs feature Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer charged with the killing of Floyd, as “El Diablo,” kneeling on Floyd's neck “in the name of the law.” Another, titled “When the Smoke Clears, We Rise Up,” depicts a Black man’s face leading a group of protesters as they're followed by a chopper.
Thomas doesn’t plan to stop, and his future works include more BLM-inspired paintings and murals to aid the fight.
“It’s deeper than George Floyd,” the artist says. “The action that took place was an action that anyone can relate to, whether they’re of color or not, which is why this uprising was so big. It was a man on video begging for his life, and that involved more than just Blacks.
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“At the end of the day, trying to get on top of someone or another group of people will only last so long. It’s either a whole kingdom going forward or the oppressor and the oppressed, who will rise up eventually.”
And, rising up is exactly what Thomas continues to do through his art. He says he's hoping to collaborate with the African American Museum of Dallas.
“I’m getting in contact with the locations where I’ve done murals on boarded windows and have asked to have the pieces back in my possession after they’re taken down,” he says. His next step is to open an art gallery or partner with the museum and continue to tell his story.
“Things have gone too far,” Thomas says. “They’ve gone too far all the way back since Egypt, ever since we were in captivity building those pyramids. That’s why I will be retrieving all the murals I made and continuing to put them to use elsewhere. This is just the beginning.”