Racial equality and police brutality have been especially prevalent topics this year. The resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and petitions to defund the police have caused Americans to reconsider their personal values and how they align with the politics they support.
Eight hundred and ninety-seven people have been killed by police in the last 10 months alone — 28% of those stolen lives belonging to Black Americans. As police brutality and systemic racism in America have an exhausting and never-ending history, senior studio art major Melissa Mazza addressed the issue in her piece, “Untitled 14.”
Depicting a backwards American flag with black and white stripes, the painting is splattered with red and white paint that represents “the many lives lost by police brutality.” Recently submitted to be displayed as part of Stony Brook’s RECKONING: Student Digital Mural, Mazza created “Untitled 14” in 2014 following the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown Jr., who was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri.
“The symbolism of the backwards flag represents how backwards the justice system is for the many lives lost to police brutality,” Mazza said. “In a mix of hurt emotions, I threw red paint onto the canvas, representing the blood of those many lives. When the opportunity came to submit work for Stony Brook’s RECKONING: Student Digital Mural, I decided on this piece because of its relevance in 2020. It is unfortunate this work is still relevant, six years after its creation.”
As Brown’s death influenced Mazza’s artwork back in 2014, it also became a catalyst for the development of the Black Lives Matter movement that has recently resurged following yet another tragic death due to police brutality. The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis this year has galvanized protests and demands for systematic reform to ensure equality for the Black minority, which has been oppressed since the country’s inception. “Untitled 14” is a comment on this harsh reality and a reminder that there is still progress to be made.
“Too many Americans have faced too many injustices and inequalities in America for far too long,” Mazza said. “‘Untitled 14’ remains important, in a time where these conversations are greatly needed to be discussed. We Americans hold the power for change within ourselves, hearts, voices and our art. Our job here is to love, not hate, profile or discriminate.”
Addressing racial discrimination, senior studio art major Kiana Lom created a piece entitled “Halloween,” which was also featured in Stony Brook’s RECKONING: Student Digital Mural. The piece was originally created to address the common assumption that black cats are representative of bad luck.
“I own two black cats as the result of nobody wanting to adopt them,” Lom said. “People think they are unlucky and as a result, they suffer low adoption rates. They are also disproportionately targeted for cruel hazing rituals during Halloween celebrations. I used these ideas and linked them to the injustices that minorities suffer as the result of their color, how they are perceived due to stereotypes, racism, or other.”
The piece depicts an individual dressed in a classic ghost costume, draped in a white cloth with two black spots for eyes. The ghost is standing in a parking lot while holding a sign that reads “Boo!” In the background, a police car is parked and a black cat is running away from the scene.
In creating this piece, Lom was working to convey the idea that “the terror that black cats feel during Halloween is similar to that of many African Americans feel of white supremacy and the police.”
“Halloween” is included in a series of photos from a children’s photo book Lom is developing called “Just Because I’m Black.”
“It is a children’s book, but it also works on a social justice level too. It is about a black cat and the experiences of being ‘ unlucky’ that led him to being a stray alley cat living behind a Chinese take out restaurant,” Lom said. “I have been working hard to develop a narrative that will inspire hope and the possibility for social reform.”