GAIA and #iftheygunnedmedown in Atlanta on MLK Jr. Day

As the U.S. reflects on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today we also acknowledge that his work, and our work, is not done.

This past year has brought more people into the streets to demonstrate across America than in many years, and the signs and slogans can in many cases be interchanged for those used by civil rights marchers half a century earlier.

In multiple cities across the country thousands of citizens have demonstrated on streets, roads, avenues, highways, intersections. They have made signs and chanted and marched multiple days and nights against injustice and many more have tweeted, facebooked, tumbled and texted – originally it was related to police brutality specifically but more largely we have seen an overall critique of a system still corroded and undermined by our history and legacy of racism.

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Gaia at work on his new mural for the Center for Civil and Human Rights. Atlanta, Georgia. (photo © Brandon English)

From our jails to our boardrooms to our schools and universities to our media outlets to our halls of government, a system of inequality continues, supported by our own ignorance and our failure to learn and heal that legacy of racism. Every day we see a black president thwarted and insulted and disrespected – not for political motivations simply, but so obviously just because of his race. The level of disrespect for the highest office in government has been unprecendented, debasing us all, even though a majority elected and re-elected President Obama.

But just last week the Miami police department was revealed to be using actual photographs of black men for sniper training practice. A blind spot in our own consciousness that is obvious when revealed, but it’s more often a case of a thousand tiny little cuts that keeps a people down, or at least permanently on the defensive. Of course we can do better.

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Gaia at work on his new mural for the Center for Civil and Human Rights. Atlanta, Georgia. (photo © Brandon English)

When it comes to media depictions of people and races, it’s these subtleties that might not be quickly evident until someone culls together many examples so you can see a pattern. In a recent and effective hashtag project that spurred a website by the same name #iftheygunnedmedown questions and examines the bias of new outlets that convict  or exonerate a person by the selective use of images alone.  If it’s a white guy, then it’s his high school graduation day pic. If it’s a black guy, the photo is from the drunken crazy party afterward.

Street Artist and contemporary muralist Gaia picked up the thread of that discussion and created this new mural from photos posted by people on social media for #iftheygunnedmedown. Each of the dual natures presented give cues that are picked up on by a viewer and used to interpret physical and character traits and a variety of assumptions about the person. Gaia points to the project’s founder, CJ Lawrence, as the original inspiration for the project and quotes him saying, “… I set out to indict the media for its role in how we, as Black people, are portrayed after we are killed”.

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Gaia at work on his new mural for the Center for Civil and Human Rights. Atlanta, Georgia. (photo © Brandon English)

The newly completed mural is at the Center for Human Rights in Atlanta and it uses images of Instagrammers whose handles are @bbuckson93 , @cruelyear , @qdotjones and @fullblowndork. As you scan across the handpainted reproductions of personal and family images, obseerve your own perceptions about the person in the frame.

The portraits rise above and are demarcated by symbols and metaphors of the ruins of Persepolis. Of the relevance of the ruins to the project Gaia explains, “The centerpiece is the Cylinder of Cyrus, which is considered by some as the first universal charter on human rights.” The cuneiform inscribed clay cylinder from 6th century BC may not have the impact that an Instragram re-painting does to the average visitor, but it does ground the message in the realization that the march toward rights for all has been very long and there has been much progress – and that there is a long way to go yet.

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Gaia at work on his new mural for the Center for Civil and Human Rights. Atlanta, Georgia. (photo © Marcus Lamar)

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Gaia at work on his new mural for the Center for Civil and Human Rights. Atlanta, Georgia. (photo © Marcus Lamar)

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Young visitors show up to give Gaia props on his new mural for the Center for Civil and Human Rights. Atlanta, Georgia. (photo © Marcus Lamar)

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Gaia. Center for Civil and Human Rights. Atlanta, Georgia. (photo © Gaia)

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Gaia. Center for Civil and Human Rights. Atlanta, Georgia. (photo © Gaia)

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Gaia. Center for Civil and Human Rights. Atlanta, Georgia. (photo © Gaia)

 

For more information please follow CJ Lawrence @cj_musick_lawya and Gaia @gaiastreetart

 

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