Minneapolis artists memorialize George Floyd in murals

Local artists hope for change and channel grief into paintings on Chicago Avenue, East 38th Street and Lake Street.

Demonstrators gather near the intersection of Chicago Avenue and East 38th Street at a memorial established for George Floyd on Friday, May 29.

Image by Jack Rodgers

Demonstrators gather near the intersection of Chicago Avenue and East 38th Street at a memorial established for George Floyd on Friday, May 29.

by Norah Kleven

Though the Twin Cities has fallen on dark days, local artists are offering a beacon of hope through public works of art in remembrance of George Floyd.

“I Can Breathe Now”

By now, many have seen this iconic mural on social media or in person: Roughly 6 feet by 17 feet, the mural includes the name and portrait of George Floyd in front of a golden sunflower that includes the names of other police brutality victims. 

Artists installed the painting on the Cup Foods building at the corner of East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, where Minneapolis Police officers killed George Floyd on May 25. 

The artists started at about 7 a.m. on May 28 and finished at around 5:30 p.m. the same day. 

“We were all full of pain …  just dealing with the trauma, the hurt and we just went to town — just started painting,” said Cadex Herrera, one of three artists who created the mural. 

Before long, crowds gathered around to watch as the artists brought the mural to life.

“People made comments that for even a brief moment they stopped thinking about just how awful the world is at the moment, about what it can be and about celebrating this man who seems to have been just an incredible human,” said Xena Goldman, one of the other artist who painted the mural. “If we can help provide a space for that kind of feeling, it’s healing for us as well.” 

Dragon Wok mural

Just across the street from Cup Foods, a community mural took shape on the side of the Dragon Wok Restaurant. 

The mural is made up of two prominent phrases, including “Abolish Police” on one side and  “Heal, Invest, Uplift Our Community” on the other. “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe” are painted in between, among red, blue and orange flowers.  

Donald Thomas, known as “Bayou,” said the mural was created by a collective of artists who have worked together in the past, some of whom helped create the impromptu mural in memorial of Philando Castile. 

“We were just trying to bring back that energy of doing impromptu murals that speak about what’s going on,” Bayou said. “Especially with so many places that are boarded up, there’s just a lot of opportunity for messages and art to go up right now.” 

Bayou said a group of 10 to 12 artists organized the mural, but community members of all ages were welcomed to help paint. 

“It quickly turned into a community mural, where folks that were there started working on the mural,” Bayou said. “There was space for anyone that wanted to come up and add to the wall.”

Though Bayou says the mural is temporary, for now it offers the community an outlet for their emotion. 

“It really does turn into something that gives the community a way to express what’s going on — it gives folks something they can do with their hands and their hearts,” said Bayou. “And it’s something that, for as long as it stays up, they can say ‘I was a part of that.’”

Leviticus Tattoo

On Lake Street, artists at Leviticus Tattoo seized the opportunity to create a message of support on their boarded-up storefront.

Kurt Melancon, owner of Leviticus Tattoo, installed a blue-hued portrait of George Floyd. 

“It was really pretty special, because we painted it right in the thick of things,” Melancon said. “We had lots of people come by and talk to us and take pictures … it was a nice change of energy, like a positive infusion to things,” Melancon said. 

One thread that connects the murals and work of artists all over the city is the desire to demonstrate their support for the community and the movement that has developed in light of last week’s killing and subsequent protests. 

“It’s hard to keep momentum going forever and to keep protesting forever,” Goldman said. “Any visible change in the landscape to show that this happened here — I think is really important.”