Content warning: This article contains violent imagery.
Niya Fearrington, a member of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP Youth Council who has helped to organize recent rallies in Chapel Hill, is working with local muralists to combine Black art and local protests.
Fearrington said she had been inspired by murals that had been made by Black artists in Raleigh and Durham and wanted to represent visual art in the events that she has helped organize in Chapel Hill.
“I wanted to really be amplifying Black culture and what that looks like, and how multifaceted that is, making sure at the event we wanted to have Black music, Black singers, Black artists, Black poets, Black businesses, all things that liberate Black people and represent Black people,” Fearrington said. “I think at the last two protests and rallies that I organized, I realized that the physical aspect of Black art was missing.”
She posted on Instagram asking whether there were any local visual artists interested in volunteering their talents to paint murals at the rally.
One of the muralists who responded to Fearrington’s post is Nina Scott, a recent Carrboro High graduate and incoming first-year at UNC.
“The piece I'm working on currently is basically a memorial to Oluwatoyin Salau, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland and Dominique Fells,” Scott explained, “who were all Black women who were killed by different systems and different people.”
Salau was a 19-year-old Black Lives Matter activist who was murdered in Tallahassee in June after tweeting the details of her sexual assault. Salau had recently gained attention both with local activists and on social media for her passionate speeches in support of the movement.
Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT, was fatally shot by Louisville police officers in her home in March. The officers involved in Taylor's killing have not been charged.
Fells was a 27-year-old transgender Black woman who was murdered in Philadelphia in June. As of July 12, the Human Rights Commission has reported 21 transgender or gender-nonconforming people killed in the United States in 2020. At least eight of those individuals were Black transgender women.
Bland, a 28-year-old Black activist, was found hanging in her jail cell in July 2015, days after a traffic stop by an Austin Police Department officer for failing to signal a lane. Video footage of her arrest shows the officer pulled out a stun gun after ordering Bland to get out of her car. Although officially ruled a suicide, her death was considered a turning point in the Black Lives Matter movement.
The hashtag #SayHerName, which Scott included in her portrait, rose to prominence following Bland’s death and has been used since to memorialize Black women who have been killed by police violence. Scott said her work focuses on "misogynoir", a type of extreme sexism rooted in racism that is directed specifically to Black women.
“I'm focusing on misogynoir, and the fact that Black women have to endure both misogyny and racism at the same time,” Scott said. “We need every single community to address the fact that Black women are just considered the bottom of the barrel for a lot of different things, and our lives are not valued.”
Scott was eager to join the project, knowing Fearrington from high school and having recently completed her own fundraiser for Black Lives Matter where she took portrait commissions via Instagram in exchange for donations to charity.
“I just really love the Black community in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, going to school in Carrboro myself, so it was important that I join them and express my activism and make sure my voice was heard,” she said.
Caroline Anderson, a muralist involved in the project, is a rising sophomore at N.C. State University. Anderson said art has been more of her personal hobby, but when she saw Fearrington’s post on Instagram, she knew she wanted to help with the project.
Anderson said her mural was intended to point out the everyday racism and microaggressions that Black women endure from white people, regardless of political leaning.
“I would say that even for me as a white artist, there are definitely limitations as to what I know, and more issues that aren’t in the spotlight that are hurting Black lives,” Anderson said. “Black people, especially Black women, are often silenced by the media. We hear it with Breonna Taylor and with Sandra Bland and other Black women who are victims of police brutality, so I wanted to draw more awareness to that.”
Fearrington and an adviser from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP Youth Council are scouting locations for places for the murals to be shown. Although Fearrington said there’s no official update, they’re hoping to find a place to display them somewhere on Franklin Street.
“I felt like it was a great way to express emotions, but also a great way for other people to learn about what’s going on if they haven’t been able to either be on social media or actively going to some of the rallies and protests that have been happening,” Fearrington said.
Scott said visual art is a critical piece for people to truly grasp activism.
“They say the eyes are the gateway to the soul, so when you see something so beautiful, it just speaks to you,” she said. “I think people really cherish things that are painted. There's something about working with your hands that really speaks to people, especially when it has a message to it.”
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