Following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Dion Johnson and Ahmaud Arbery, people around the state and country have been protesting for justice, equal treatment, restructuring and retraining within police departments and redistribution of funds into community programs.
Those who support the Black Lives Matter movement, which started in 2013, have relied on different platforms to spread their message.
In Phoenix, artists have lent their artistic talents and voices to public murals. Some artists have created murals on their own, while others have collaborated on pieces.
The artists come from different backgrounds, but through their pieces, they hope to inspire change and create discussion.
Jeremie ‘Bacpac’ Franko
For Jeremie “Bacpac” Franko, it was important to create discussion with her George Floyd mural at 15th and Oak streets, in which he is depicted on a $20 bill.
Floyd was killed in May by a police officer in Minnesota following an accusation of using a counterfeit $20 bill.
Through the mural, Franko hoped to bring attention to economic imbalances that impact Black and Latino communities.
She also wanted to create conversation around the idea of how funding for the police and the National Guard could be directed instead into communities.
“The money they have spent on the police and the guard should have been used for sports facilities, libraries, public parks, pools, educational programs, job retraining, so much more,” Franko says.
Originally from New York, Franko has lived in London and Los Angeles and traveled to different parts of the world. She moved to the Valley in 2008.
Along with being a realism-based muralist, she is also a musician, poet, hip-hop dancer and rockabilly DJ. She also has studied architecture and worked in the movie industry as a scenic artist.
Franko, whose grandfather was a scrap metal dealer, got started in the arts at age 13, when she would spray numbers on demolition derby cars for a body shop in Emerson, New Jersey.
“When I was a kid, my fascination was rust and chrome, growing up around cars and bikes,” Franko says.
At age 14, she learned airbrushing techniques while working at another bike shop in New Jersey, where she prepped and airbrushed bikes for the Hells Angel biker club.
Locally, Franko has done other murals exploring larger issues impacting society. A piece she created at the 2018 Oak Street Alley Mural Festival, for example, was centered around the topic of school shootings.
Franko does public art as well as commissioned work. She says that with public art, she often tries to create greater community discussion.
“With public art, you have an opportunity to make a statement,” she says. “That is a time when you can say something and have a conversation because you are out there painting live.”
Phoenix Group Mural
For one Black Lives mural in Downtown Phoenix, artists from different backgrounds came together to create one work at a vacant lot between Lacuna Kava Bar and the Songbird Coffee and Tea House.
The artists involved included Giovannie “Just Dixon,” Nyla Lee, Amir “Muta” Santiago, John “MDMN” Moody, Clyde and Ashley Macias.
Dixon also created a mural of Dion Johnson, a Phoenix man killed by a state trooper in May, on the wall of the Nami vegan restaurant.
Prints of the mural were available for a short time, and the $1,600 raised benefited Black Lives Matter Phoenix Metro and Trans Queer Pueblo.
The artists used a range of colors in their work and represented their own individual styles. The connecting threads in the piece are flowers.
Dixon’s contribution to the group mural is slightly different than the others, as it is a black-and-white representation of a woman with tears running down her face with the words “Black Lives Matter” beside her.
Santiago depicted a boy holding a bunch of flowers on his way to a funeral; Macias, a fist raised in protest; Lee, a couple standing together in solidarity; Clyde, a woman surrounded by flowers; and Moody, a superhero-like figure with a flower in his hand.
Lee used two models as her inspiration. She hoped to show the strength of their connection in her piece.
“I wanted to emphasize Black love matters and having that couple signify that, putting them in a vibrant, beautiful light to show the beautiful nature of who they are,” Lee says.
Like others in the country, Santiago grieved and mourned. He says he feels a personal connection with the issues around police brutality, which he brought into the piece.
“I was seeing myself within the piece and really relating to my past history with police brutality and what my neighborhood and my community has fought for and been in fear of,” Santiago says.
Moody says that for him it is important to create a piece that is larger than life and will speak to others.
“This is why I paint—to empower everybody, and I mean everybody,” Moody says.
The artists brought different backgrounds and levels of experience.
Santiago has been a practicing artist for the last 10 years. He started doing street art in Miami and moved to Arizona less than a year ago.
In Miami, the artist created a piece for Art Basel featuring an Embera native indigenous to Panama. The artist, who often represents nature in his work, hoped to convey the importance of preserving our planet.
Moody was raised in Arizona, lived in Los Angeles for 11 years and recently moved back to Arizona two years ago. He had a background in graphic design before getting into street art in Los Angeles and then Phoenix.
The artist has created a number of murals for schools with similar larger-than-life qualities as his Black Lives Matter piece.
Macias is originally from Laguna Nigel, California, but has lived in Tucson and Phoenix for most of her life. She has pursued surrealistic painting on and off for the last 10 years.
Lee started creating artwork at a young age, but her interest lies in colorful, vibrant portraits and branding and package design. The artist, who has been doing murals for the last three years, grew up in Las Vegas and has lived in Phoenix on and off since 2013.
In her paintings, she often represents women’s issues, such as the policing of their bodies and clothing.
For the Black Lives Matter group mural, the artists started working together over the same weekend and finished within the next week. They all had to balance time working on their murals with their day jobs.
Dixon flew out from Denver and painted two murals over one weekend.
The artist was born and raised in Los Angeles and started doing murals about two and a half years ago while living in Phoenix. He recently moved to Denver this January.
In Denver, he also collaborated on mural of Breonna Taylor, an EMT in Kentucky killed in her home by the police.
Dixon says it was important for him to participate in the Phoenix project because African American artists like himself need to be part of the conversation.
“I’m trying to bring that awareness, plant some seeds for the future generation of Black men and women. I definitely want to put more Black art out there so we can see ourselves on walls,” Dixon says.
Although the artists worked separately on different sections of the mural, they collaborated as they worked. They found that their individual pieces came together well in sending a cohesive message.
“It really was a supernatural collaborative effort,” Santiago says. “We all came together in how we were feeling and approached the one statement of Black Lives Matter. Some of us came very clearly and straight to the point with that, and some of us came at a different angle,” Santiago says.
The artists all found it important to use their voices and platform to speak out against injustice.
“Our walls are our protests. That’s how we make a difference, and that’s how we create change,” Dixon says.
Most people supported the murals, but there were others who questioned their use of public space, larger agenda and overall message.
As they were painting, a group of protesters stood next to them, giving them a sense of encouragement.
Lee says it was important for others see the mural and start conversations around the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It is not just a trend or a fad to say that. It is something that is happening. It is something that is wrong with our country,” Lee says.