Meet the Artists Behind the Images and Graphics That Have Gone Viral Following George Floyd's Death

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George Floyd viral artists
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If you're active on social media, you have likely seen some of the breathtaking artwork that has been created following the death of George Floyd. Perhaps it's portraits honoring the 46-year-old Minneapolis man, who died at the hands of police last month, or illustrations of Breonna Taylor, who would have turned 27 on Friday, had she not been killed by Louisville Metro Police in March. Maybe you've also shared a number of appealing graphic designs to your own account, that aim to help spread important information about the Black Lives Matter movement.

In a time when the world is demanding justice, with protests happening nationwide, art has acted as another way to bring us together and provide empathy. "Art heals ... it's a beautiful thing," longtime Black Lives Matter activist Kenidra Woods tells ET.

Now, it's time to meet the artists behind some of the most powerful images that have gone viral amid the fatal arrest of Floyd, and learn more about why they do what they do.

JESS BIRD

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The number one response I get when I talk about our white privilege. I understand all life matters, but all lives are not equally in danger. If both my sons were playing and one broke their arm and one didn’t I would not give them the same medical treatment. I would take care of the one in more danger. It would not mean one mattered more than the other, it would mean one needed my aid faster. It’s not a competition or a confrontation. People come in this space who don’t even follow me and just start nonsense in my comments. Today I’ll just block, no one needs to be triggered by ignorance. Take care of each other. . . It’s been brought to my awareness that @rachel.cargle posted an article in Harpers Bazaar that my post is very similar to. I HIGHLY respect her, financially support her work, and learn from her and probably even read the article at the time and it just stuck in my consciousness. I had zero intention of ever trying to be credited with her work, I only was trying to silence the non stop stream of voices. Either way it’s not okay and I acknowledge that and take responsibility for not citing her.

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This 32-year-old from Rochester, New York, is the artist behind the @blessthemessy Instagram account. Her work has provided valuable information on everything from how to be an ally, to how to take action and demand justice.

"Creating has always been how I make sense of the world around me," she explains to ET. "I use lots of mediums but for these I've been using my iPad Pro. It's not a font, it's my actual handwriting, so they're sort of like digital protest signs."

"I think the accessibility of digital art on a platform like this is why it’s crucial. It can move ideas and information so fast," she continues. "I won't lie. It's weird and overwhelming at times. But it can show how connected we all are."

And while Bird is thrilled to see so many people sharing such beautiful pieces of art (her own and that of her colleagues), she wants to remind everyone that real change happens off social media.

"These collective works are really just the start. After this comes the real work, of dismantling a broken system," she says. "Making donations, signing petitions, amplifying voices of black folks, VOTING -- all will be what makes the big changes for this moment in history."

SHIRIEN DAMRA

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Yesterday, in yet another act of anti-black police violence causing mass outrage, George Floyd yelled “I can’t breathe” and pleaded for his life as a white Minneapolis police officer violently pinned him down with his knee on his neck. George died after. He was murdered in broad daylight. His death is reminiscent of the death of Eric Garner. Even with a crowd yelling at him to stop and while folks filmed the murder, the cop did it anyway, showing the massive injustice, zero accountability and white supremacy embedded in the “criminal justice” system. Heartbroken, angry and disgusted. This must end. Much love and solidarity to Black communities grieving another beautiful life lost. May George Floyd Rest in Power. Text ‘Floyd’ to 55156 to demand the officers be charged with murder. You can also call Mayor Jacob Frey at (612)-673-2100, DA Mike Freeman at (612)-348-5550 and demand justice. #blacklivesmatter #georgefloyd #icantbreathe #justiceforgeorgefloyd

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One of the most widespread illustrations being shared across all social media platforms comes from this 33-year-old Palestinian American artist, who depicted Floyd with his eyes closed, surrounded by bright flowers. At the time of publication, the photo has garnered nearly four million likes on Damra's Instagram page.

"I think art can touch our emotional core in a way that the news can't," Damra tells TIME. "One thing that I have found we struggle with is actually imagining what kind of things we do want to see in our world. I feel like as artists, one role we could play is allowing ourselves and others to reimagine the possibilities."

"Our society will likely never turn back to how it used to be before the pandemic and everything happening right now," she adds. "Art can be a powerful catalyst in bringing more people together to take action. This has opened up a way to reach more marginalized communities who need art most during this heavy time."

NIKKOLAS SMITH

Another popular portrait of Floyd -- which has been shared by a number of celebrities and public figures, including Michelle Obama -- comes from this Los Angeles-based artist and activist. Smith has been commemorating other victims of police brutality for years, using Photoshop to create his digital work. He tells TIME that he intentionally gives his pieces an "unfinished quality."

"I don't like clean lines. That's a parallel to all these lives," he explains. "They did not have a chance to see their end. They should still be living."

"Even if there isn't an action item, people are still seeing an image of a human being. The narrative is building up more and more that these are people who should be on this earth who are not here anymore, and that their life is important," he continues. "To share it, even if it's just that, is important. I'm hoping that all of this leads to a bigger, more substantial change, especially with accountability of law enforcement."

ROBIN HILKEY

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Breonna Taylor. On March 13 in Louisville, KY, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, an essential worker helping save lives, was killed in the middle of the night, in her own home by police. A renegade team of three white officers broke into the wrong apartment, in the wrong neighborhood, looking to arrest a suspect they ALREADY HAD in custody. We must seek justice for Breonna and her family and hold these officers accountable. 
Actions you can take today: 💖I share this language from @shaunking : I need you to care. I don’t take this request lightly. Make room in your heart for Breonna and her family. And room in your day to fight for her, ok? It all starts here. ⁣ ✅Text ENOUGH to 55156 to demand #JusticeForBre ✅Sign the petition and take action at StandWithBre.com ✅Share her story and this case everywhere. Use #JusticeForBre #StandWithBre . . .  #SayHerName #WakePraySlay #BlackLivesMatter #BreonnaTaylor #justiceforbreonnataylor

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For Hilkey, a Brooklyn, New York, artist and designer for Color of Change, it's all about creating work that tells a story and makes a lasting impact.

"I started doing these portraits a couple of years ago, the first one being of Stephon Clark, mostly as a therapeutic way for me to process the news of these lives that were so tragically lost -- and murdered," she explains to Allure. "The portraits have been my way of memorializing these lives and sharing their story. It's always been extremely important to me especially as an artist and designer of color to use my skills to try and make a difference and make this type of work."

ERIC YAHNKER

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Justice for George Floyd. The wheels of justice are criminally slow. Sweeping institutional change must occur NOW before we can even think of healing our hopelessly divided & wounded nation… *All 4 officers involved in George Floyd’s murder need to be charged NOW. *Derek Chauvin’s charge should be upgraded to 2nd degree murder (a long shot, but should). *All nationwide Mayors and Police Chiefs must IMMEDIATELY adopt the policing strategies/tactics outlined by the Black Lives Matter organization to dramatically reduce these violent incidents. *Non-violent protests must continue across the nation to hold officials feet to the fire until they act. *City, State and Federal Government must not escalate the situation by inviting military tactics to stamp out peaceful protests. *We all must VOTE as if our lives (especially the lives of African-American’s) are depending on it. There is so much more to overcome, but we have to start somewhere. #blacklivesmatter #justiceforgeorgefloyd #ripgeorgefloyd #icantbreathe #ericyahnker

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Yahnker, who is based in California, tells TIME that he chose to draw Floyd as the "gentle giant" he was described as by his family and friends. He says his latest piece of work was created using colored pencils on a sheet of kraft paper, and was a "gut reaction" to Floyd's death.

"It absolutely guts me that if Mr. Floyd were a white gentle giant or anything other than black, he'd still be alive today," Yahnker shares. "As a Jew, indoctrinated since birth to the scores of my own ancestry massacred by the hands of evil forces, I know full well that silence itself can be a painfully violent and oppressive act."

"I am a firm believer in the power of the collective," he adds. "If we all put a drop in the bucket, it can turn into a tidal wave."

CADEX HERRERA, GRETA MCLAIN & XENA GOLDMAN

George Floyd memorial mural
Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Off social media, many artists have also been taking their work to the streets. This group of artists, for example, are the creators behind the beautiful public mural of Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which was heavily featured during his televised memorial service on Wednesday. It's painted on the side of a grocery store, just down the street from where Floyd died.

"We wanted to portray him in a positive light. Not as a martyr, but as a hero," Herrera tells ARTnews. "We wanted to make sure that his name was remembered."

"It was a terrible thing that happened to him," he adds. "It's devastating, and I hope that at least some peace can come from this to reflect on a life of a human being that was unnecessarily taken away."

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