ARTISTS RISE UP IN THE AGE OF BLACK LIVES MATTER

It’s been two years since George Floyd’s murder led to thousands of protestors flooding the streets of New York City with the message that Black Lives Matter. Amid the protests, businesses boarded up their windows and a group of artists saw an opportunity, turning those plywood boards into canvases of their own. Hundreds of murals went up in the days following Floyd’s death and acclaimed urban author and photographer Kurt Boone had a front row seat to this history. He joins us to discuss the movement behind these murals, which are featured in his book, “Fresh Plywood NYC: Artists Rise Up In The Age Of Black Lives Matter.”

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING, AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M JENNA FLANAGAN.

IT'S BEEN TWO YEARS SINCE GEORGE FLOYD'S MURDER LED TO THOUSANDS OF PROTESTERS FLOODING THE STREETS OF NEW YORK CITY WITH THE MESSAGE THAT BLACK LIVES MATTER.

AMID THE PUSH FOR RACIAL JUSTICE, BUSINESSES BOARDED UP THEIR WINDOWS TO PREVENT LOOTING AND A GROUP OF ARTISTS SAW AN OPPORTUNITY, TURNING THOSE PLYWOOD BOARDS INTO CANVASS OF THEIR OWN.

HUNDREDS OF MURALS WENT UP IN THE DAYS.

TOING FLOYD'S DEATH, AND OUR NEXT GUEST TONIGHT HAD A FRONT ROW SEAT TO THIS HISTORY AND PHOTOGRAPHED THE ART WORK THAT KURT BOON IS AN ACCLAIMED AUTHOR WHO COMPILED THE PHOTOGRAPHS.

IT'S GREAT TO WELCOME KURT TO THE SHOW.

KURT, IT'S GREAT TO HAVE YOU ON.

OH, THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

ABSOLUTELY.

SO, KURT, I WANT TO YOU TAKE US BACK TO THE BEGINNING OF THE PROTESTS AFTER GEORGE FLOYD'S DEATH.

WHAT WAS THE MOOD LIKE IN NEW YORK CITY?

AND WHAT IS IT THAT MADE YOU HEAD THE LOWER MANHATTAN JUST TO SEE WHAT WAS GOING ON?

YEAH, I WAS WATCHING THE NEWS REPORTS ON VARIOUS CHANNELS, AND I, YOU KNOW, IMMEDIATELY SAW THINGS WERE GETTING PRETTY MUCH HECTIC ON THE STREETS.

AND I SAW IT AND WANTED TO CAPTURE IT, SO I GRABBED MY CAMERA THE NEXT DAY, AND I WENT DOWNTOWN TO WHERE I SAW SOME OF THE PROTESTS.

I FIRST STARTED IN UNION SQUARE.

THERE WERE A LOT OF WINDOWS BROKEN IN STORES.

I STARTED SEEING WORKERS PUT UP PLYWOOD.

RIGHT AFTER THE PROTESTS HAPPENED, YOU KNOW?

AND I STARTED PHOTOGRAPHING THAT.

THEN I KEPT LISTENING TO THE NEWS REPORTS TELLING ME VARIOUS PLACES IN MANHATTAN.

SO NOT JUST SOHO AND UNION SQUARE, BUT IN THE WEST SIDE OF 14th STREET, EVEN IN BROOKLYN.

SO THERE WAS A LOT GOING ON.

BUT I DECIDED AT THE TIME TO LIMIT MYSELF MOSTLY TO MANHATTAN.

THAT WAS ENOUGH RIGHT THERE.

AND THEN --

OF COURSE.

YEAH, AND THEN I WAS PHOTOGRAPHING THE MARCHES PRIMARILY.

I DIDN'T PHOTOGRAPH THE RETAILER AS WELL, BUT MOST OF THE RETAILERS JUST HAD -- AS THE TITLE OF MY BOOK SAID, FRESH PLYWOOD.

AND YOU COULD SMELL IT.

IT WAS BRAND NEW PLYWOOD.

AND SO A LOT OF IT WAS BLANK, BUT IN SOME AREAS OF THE CITY, LIKE UNION SQUARE, SOHO, THEY STARTED WRITING NEGATIVE STUFF TOWARDS THE POLICE, AND I PHOTOGRAPHED THAT.

AND YOU KNOW, I CONTINUED TO FOLLOW THE MARCHING EVERY DAY.

AND GOT KIND OF BUILT UP A LOT OF -- ABOUT WHAT WAS HAPPENING.

EVENTUALLY I SAW AN ARTICLE IN 'THE NEW YORK TIMES' THAT INDICATED THAT ARTISTS HAD STARTED PAINTING THE PLYWOOD IN SOHO.

THEY HAD A FEW PICTURES OF IT IN THE ARTICLE IN 'THE NEW YORK TIMES.'

THAT WAS AROUND JUNE -- I GUESS JUNE 18th, JUNE 20th.

UH-HUH.

AND I WENT OUT THE NEXT DAY TO PHOTOGRAPH WHAT 'NEW YORK TIMES' WAS REPORTING.

BECAUSE I HAD ALREADY PHOTOGRAPHED SOME BUT IT HAD NEGATIVE MARKS ON IT TOWARDS THE POLICE, YOU KNOW, GRAFFITI MARKS TOWARDS IT.

I GO BACK, IMMEDIATELY STARTED SEEING THESE MAGNIFICENT PAINTINGS ON PLYWOOD IN SOHO.

AND SO MY FIRST TWO, LIKE, REALLY STRONG MEMORIES WAS WITH -- ON PRINCE STREET AND BROADWAY.

THERE'S A TRAIN STOP THERE.

THERE WAS ONE PLYWOOD -- I DON'T REMEMBER THE ARTIST'S NAME, BUT IT WAS REALLY DECORATIVE, AND SHE HAPPENED TO BE A LEADER OF A GROUP CALLED ART TO HEART.

ART TO HEART WAS LIKE AN EARLY GROUP THAT PUT A CALL OUT TO ARTISTS TO COME AND PAINT.

SO I PHOTOGRAPHED HER -- HER PAINTINGS, AND THEN ACROSS THE STREET AT PINK STORE ON THE CORNER OF PRINCE AND BROADWAY, THERE WAS ANOTHER SIGNIFICANT MURAL I SAW THAT I SAID, WOW, THIS IS A MASTERPIECE.

IT WAS LIKE SOMEBODY COMING OUT TO SAY SOMETHING SMALL.

THEY REALLY WANTED TO MAKE AN IMPRESSION WITH THEIR ART.

AND THAT PIECE IS ON THE COVER OF MY BOOK 'FRESH PLYWOOD, ARTISTS RISE UP IN THE AGE OF BLACK LIVES MATTER', AND THAT ARTIST WAS CONTANS PATTEN.

EVENTUALLY I WOULD CONTINUE PHOTOGRAPHING THE PLYWOOD, YOU KNOW, FOR THE NEXT, LIKE, THREE MONTHS.

SO IT WAS LIKE, MAY -- END OF MAY, JUNE, JULY, AUGUST, AND BY SEPTEMBER I REALIZED I HAD OVER 300 MURALS.

AND I SAID TO MYSELF, YOU KNOW, WHAT I'M GOING TO DO WITH THIS?

SO I REACHED OUT TO ONE OF MY GRAPHIC DESIGNERS.

HER NAME IS JOSEPHINA MO DECEMBER TO.

WE CALL HER JOJO.

I SAID, TAKE THESE MURALS, AND DON'T MAKE A FANCY BOOK.

WHEN I GIVE THEM TO YOU, JUST LEAVE IT.

SHE DID AS I ASKED, WORKED IT REALLY QUICK.

PUT KNIT A PDF FILE.

AND SHE LIKES DOING COVERS.

I GAVE HER THE THREE IMAGES TO PUT ON THE COVER, AND SHE MADE THIS BEAUTIFUL COVER.

AND I SENT IT OUT TO MY PRINTER AND ILLINOIS AND SAID, HEY, I NEED -- GIVE ME TEN COPY OF THIS.

I WANTED TO SEE WHAT THE REACTION WAS.

MYSELF, BEING A PHOTOGRAPHER AND KNOWING HOW PEOPLE REACT TO STORIES --

UH-HUH.

SOMETIMES THEY DON'T BELIEVE IT UNLESS THEY SEE IT, RIGHT?

WELL, OF COURSE, AND I WOULD IMAGINE THAT THE STORIES THAT YOU WERE GETTING, AT LEAST NOT JUST WHAT THE ART WAS CONVEYING BUT WHAT, AT LEAST, PERHAPS YOU WERE HEARING FROM SOME OF THE ARTISTS AS TO WHY THEY WANTED TO PAINT THESE MURALS MUST HAVE BEEN VERY COMPELLING.

CONSTANCE PATTEN WHO'S ON THE COVER, SHE'S A NATIVE OF -- SHE HAS STRONG CONVICTIONS ABOUT HER HERITAGE.

SHE WANTED TO CONVEY THAT THROUGH HER ART, YOU KNOW?

NOT NECESSARILY LIKE PUSHING EVERYBODY TO SAY SHE WANTS EVERYBODY TO BELIEVE BLACK LIVES MATTER, BUT SHE WANTED TO REALLY CONVEY THE HERITAGE WHERE SHE CAME FROM, AND IN PUTTING THAT OUT ON THE STREETS IS PRETTY SIGNIFICANT FOR HER.

SHE WOULD GO ON TO PAINT MAYBE -- AT LEAST 25, 30 MURALS IN SOHO.

AND SHE WOULD EVENTUALLY FORM A GROUP OF ARTISTS.

SO IT WAS INTERESTING.

AS I PHOTOGRAPHED THESE MURALS, ARTISTS WERE JOINING TOGETHER AND FORMING GROUPS.

RIGHT?

AND THEY WOULD GO AROUND, LOOK FOR EMPTY PLYWOOD, AND THEY WOULD PAINT, YOU KNOW?

AND SO CONSTANCE PATTEN FORM A GROUP WITH AMIR DIOP WHO DID ABOUT 50 MURALS HIMSELF, A YOUNG AFRICAN AMERICAN.

HE'S ABOUT 20 YEARS OLD, AND HE WAS OUT THERE EVERY DAY.

AND HE -- A LOT OF HIS WORK IS PROTEST DRIVEN, WHERE AS, YOU KNOW, CONSTANCE IS MORE NATIVE AMERICAN IMAGERY.

YOU KNOW, BUT IT HAS A STRONG ETHNIC FEEL TO IT.

SO THERE WERE DIFFERENT KINDS OF THEMES THAT WAS COMING THROUGH WITH THESE MURALS.

ABSOLUTELY.

ABSOLUTELY.

AND EVEN THE SIGNIFICANT ABOUT GEORGE FLOYD -- I MEAN, NOT JUST GEORGE FLOYD WAS KILLED BY POLICE BRUTALITY, BUT BREONNA TAYLOR.

MANY OTHER NAMES WERE BEING PAINTED ON THESE PLYWOODS, RIGHT?

AND I GOT THE IMPRESSION THAT NOT JUST THE ARTISTS, BUT THE PROTESTERS THEMSELVES, THEY WANTED TO GET IN THE FACE OF THESE BIG CORPORATIONS TO SAY, YOU KNOW, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

LET'S END THIS POLICE BRUTALITY.

AND I JUST -- YOU KNOW, IT WAS JUST MASSIVE, AND I WAS SEEING IT AND I SEEN THE ARTISTS, BY THEM PAINTING ON THEIR PLYWOOD THEY WERE -- YOU HAD TO KIND OF ADDRESS IT IN SOME KIND OF WAY.

THE FACT THAT YOU WERE ABLE TO BE OUT THERE AND CAPTURE SOME OF THE IMAGES, I'M WONDERING, DO YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO THE PHYSICAL ART WORK THAT'S DONE ON THIS PLYWOOD?

I KNOW THAT MANY OF THEM WERE STOLEN AND THE ARTISTS DON'T KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO THEM.

SO I MEAN, THERE WERE ARTISTS WHO WOULD PAINT BEAUTIFUL MURALS AND TWO DAYS LATER IT WAS GONE.

SO THERE'S AN ONGOING THING INSIDE THE ART COMMUNITY THAT PAINTED OUT THERE WHERE THEY'RE SEARCHING FOR THESE MURALS.

I DON'T KNOW HOW SUCCESSFUL THEY'RE GOING TO BE, BUT AR A LOT OF THEM ARE LOST.

SOME STORES THOUGHT THE MURALS WERE THEIR PROPERTY AND THEY DIDN'T GIVE IT BACK TO THE ARTISTS.

WOW.

YEAH, THE ARTISTS DIDN'T DO ANYTHING.

IT'S THEIR PLYWOOD, THEIR STORE, RIGHT?

SOME STORES GAVE THE ARTISTS BACK THE ART PIECE.

SO THERE WERE A FEW ARTISTS THAT, YOU KNOW, GOT SOME OF THEIR PIECES BACK.

IN FACT, IN UNION SQUARE, THERE'S GOING TO BE AN EXHIBITION OF MAYBE 10 OR 12 BOARDS THAT'S GOING TO BE OUT THERE.

THERE'S GOING TO BE AN EXHIBITION OF BOARDS.

I CAN SEND YOU THAT INFORMATION.

SOME OF THEM STILL, THOUGH, ARE IN -- LIKE, YOU CAN STILL SEE SOME OF THE ART WORK FOR AT LEAST THE PUBLIC.

I'M WONDERING -- BECAUSE YOU'RE NOT NECESSARILY NEW TO THIS.

AND I WANT TO AUDIENCE TO ALSO UNDERSTAND THAT YOU HAVE BEEN OUT PHOTOGRAPHING JUST THE STREETS OF NEW YORK FOR YEARS.

SO WAS THERE SOMETHING THAT FELT UNIQUE ABOUT THESE PROTESTS AND THE ART WORK THAT YOU WERE SEEING AS OPPOSED TO YEARS GONE BY, PERHAPS, WITH GRAFFITI THAT WAS ON THE TRAINS OR BUILDINGS.

WAS THERE SOMETHING THAT MADE THIS FEEL DIFFERENT?

WELL, FIRST THING, ABOUT 85% OF THAT BOOK IS IN SOHO, WHICH IS AN UPSCALE RETAIL DISTRICT IN NEW YORK CITY, SO YOUR TOP BRANDS HAVE STORES DOWN THERE.

THAT WAS THE FIRST THING THAT CAME TO MY MIND THAT, HEY, THIS ISN'T NORMAL.

AND THEN THE SECOND THING IS, YOU KNOW, THEY'RE BEING ALLOWED TO PAINT.

THERE WERE NO ARRESTS OF ARTISTS PAINTING THESE STORES.

IT WAS JUST -- I NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE IT, AND THE ARTISTS KIND OF GOT -- THEY FORMED THEIR OWN COMMUNITY, AND I THOUGHT THAT WAS KIND OF UNIQUE IN ITSELF.

BUT IT WAS JUST SOMETHING REALLY UNUSUAL.

IN ALL THE YEARS I HAVE BEEN PHOTOGRAPHING THE STREETS IN NEW YORK, IT'S NOTHING LIKE THAT THAT I'VE EVER SEEN AND THAT I THINK WILL NEVER BE BACK AGAIN, JUST BECAUSE IT WAS UNIQUE.

SPEAKING OF -- AND WE'VE ONLY GOT JUST A FEW SECONDS LEFT, BUT I KNOW YOU ALSO TOOK A TRIP OUT TO MINNEAPOLIS, SO VERY QUICKLY WITH ABOUT 30 SECONDS, WHAT DID YOU TAKE AWAY FROM BEING ABLE TO SEE THE ACTUAL LOCATION OF GEORGE FLOYD'S MURDER AND ALSO THE ART WORK THAT CAME OUT OF THAT CITY?

WELL, MINNEAPOLIS GEORGIA FLOYD SQUARE IS VERY EMOTIONAL.

IT TAKES YOUR BREATH AWAY.

THAT'S WHAT I COULD SAY.

YOU KNOW, SO MANY OFFERINGS THAT WERE OUT THERE.

AND JUST THE CITIZENS OF THAT COMMUNITY JUST SETTING UP THIS MEMORIAL FOR GEORGE FLOYD AND STANDING THEIR GROUND WAS VERY, VERY IMPRESSIVE.

AND I GOT A CHANCE TO SEE SOME OF THE ART WORK OUT THERE AS WELL, SO IT WAS -- IT HAD A PROFOUND EFFECT ON ME SEEING GEORGE FLOYD SQUARE ITSELF, AND I THINK THAT'S A SPECIAL MOMENT IN MY LIFE TO BE A PART OF THE WHOLE TRAGIC EVENT AND BEING ABLE TO DOCUMENT IT AS A FROM EVER AND SAVE IT.

UNFORTUNATELY WE HAVE TO LEAVE IT THERE.

WE'VE RUN OUT OF TIME.

BUT I WANT TO THANK YOU SO MUCH, KURT BOON, YOU'RE THE PHOTOGRAPHER.

YOUR BOOK, OF COURSE, IS 'FRESH PLYWOOD NYC ARTISTS RISE UP IN THE AGE OF BLACK LIVES MATTER'. KURT, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US AND, ABOVE ALL, FOR TAKING THE TIME TO CAPTURE THIS MOMENT IN TIME FOR NEW YORK CITY.

THANK YOU SO MUCH, JENNA.

ABSOLUTELY.

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