On Friday night in Union Square, Terrence Floyd – a brother of George Floyd whose May 2020 murder by a police officer sparked clashes over police brutality and racial injustice – spoke quietly into a microphone.
âThese monuments have meaning,â Mr. Floyd said as he stood among large sculptures of his brother, representative John Lewis and Breonna Taylor.
The statues were covered in black cloth, and the growing crowd of people held cellphone cameras, ready to capture the moment Mr. Floyd and others revealed the sculptures, which are nearly six feet tall and are composed of 200 layers of African mahogany plywood covered with bronze metallic paint.
At the moment there were no signs, no chants of pain, and no gas masks – radically different from just over a year ago, when Union Square was often a central place where nights of protest started or ended. Sometimes dozens of people were arrested. With the sculptures, a place of agitation has become a place of reflection.
Chris Carnabuci, 57, the artist who made the sculptures, said that was precisely why he chose Union Square to house the installation he calls ‘#SeeInjustice’, which will be on display until to October 30.
âIt has this rich history of – we’ll call it protests or social gatherings,â Mr. Carnabuci said in an interview. âThere was a demonstration by George Floyd in Union Square. In the late 1800s, protests took place there. This has been going on for over 100 years.
On the eve of the official presentation, the three sculptures already captured the attention of passers-by Thursday afternoon.
Crowds of people gathered around the sculptures, looking for the perfect angle to take photos. Strangers talked to each other about how each person was portrayed.
Matias Mayol, 49, a tourist visiting from Argentina, said the artwork gave him goosebumps and he had to stop to admire it.
Although he knows Mr Floyd through the media in Argentina, he said he had never heard of Ms Taylor, a black medical worker who was shot dead in a botched police raid on her apartment. , and was amazed to learn his story. .
He also did not know Mr. Lewis, a staunch civil rights activist who was beaten up by police officers and suffered a broken skull during the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” protests as he and hundreds of others tried. to walk from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery. . He died of pancreatic cancer in July 2020.
Mr. Mayol said there was something ethereal about the statues. âI quit because I love the color, and they look like angels,â he said. “They are in the sky watching us to see changes.”
Hess, 22, from Los Angeles, said she believed the post would have had more impact if it highlighted everyone injured by police, although she understands why the artist chose M Floyd and Mrs. Taylor.
“It would be better if, for example, every person who died from police violence last year had their own stand and the whole park would be covered,” she said. “But at the moment, it seems there are only two people that matter.”
The murder last year of Mr. Floyd, 46, by Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer who was later fired and convicted of murder, inspired Mr. Carnabuci.
Already feeling emotionally drained from the pandemic lockdown, Mr Carnabuci said he felt “helpless” watching the protests unfold. His wife encouraged him to put her grief into his art, and he said he wanted to capture the moment in a meaningful way.
âWe actually started to think about doing an exhibit and putting the pieces together to kind of keep the awareness going,â he said. “And even raise funds for foundations that reach out to those in need.”
Mr. Carnabuci worked with Andrew Cohen and Lindsay Eshelman, founders of Confront Art, an organization that aims to connect artists with social justice causes to create public art.
But first, Mr. Carnabuci wanted the Floyd family’s blessing. Terrence Floyd approved. “He never wavered in his support and love for the project,” said Mr. Carnabuci. “And that also gave us a reason to work, which is basically to build the program that would benefit its foundation.”
Mr Floyd said the meaning of Confront Art’s name was one of the main reasons he felt comfortable working with the group on the installation.
“It is literally art that is confrontational,” he said Friday night. âIt cannot be avoided. It should not be avoided. You must know it. “
Quick response codes will soon be displayed on the base of each sculpture, Mr Carnabuci said, so that people can donate to charities benefiting from the efforts on behalf of the subjects of the statues: We Are Floyd, The Breonna Foundation Taylor and John and Lillian Miles Lewis Foundation.
For some passers-by, the statues aroused anger and frustration.
Yolanda Burns, 59, of Manhattan, said the sculptures were an important reminder that not much had changed since the racial unrest and protests in the summer of 2020. âIt’s 2021 – who expects that it continues? ” she said. “Looks like it’s going to last a lifetime, so I want to make sure my daughter understands the people whose lives have been sacrificed.”
Union Square is the final sculpture stop by George Floyd, who spent a few weeks on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn over the summer. Less than a week after its unveiling in Brooklyn, it was disfigured by the logo of a white supremacist group. Mr Carnabuci said he decided to paint it and the other statues, so if someone tried to degrade them again they would be easier to restore.
He said he hoped the sculptures would be spared when they were displayed in Union Square.
âI just want people to really look at the sculptures and kind of think to themselves how they really feel about them,â he said. “And if we can just create an environment where we can discuss it, I feel like I’ve done my job.”
Jason Woody, 37, of Richmond and his partner, Maria Weatherborne, 40, of San Francisco, met during a protest against George Floyd last year. Dressed in Black Lives Matter cycling outfits, the two said they hope the sculptures will raise awareness and help end systemic racism.
âI think there is a way for everyone to find a way to engage in making things better,â said Woody.