Inhabitants of Baltimore this week are being confronted by the faces of 42 black artists and activists staring out at them from the city’s walls. The large-format portraits were pasted onto two buildings as a response to Black Lives Matter, the movement begun in 2012 after Trayvon Martin’s death.
As Baltimore Magazine reported, the installation was organized by Chris Metzger, a visual artist and professor at Morgan State University. This spring he and his design students began considering ways they could comment on the events playing out around the country in the wake of the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
After watching a documentary about street artist JR’s Inside Out project, which places massive portraits of marginalized residents in communities around the world, they decided to participate with their own group action. But they added their own spin as well: the shadow of a chain link fence falls over the face of each subject, symbolizing, as Metzger writes on his website, the “invisible boundaries and limitations placed on Black people throughout different facets of our lives.”
“The format of large scale wheat pastings was ideal for our message because this is a public conversation we need to be having in America,” Metzger told Hyperallergic, explaining that the topic became even more pressing as the class conceptualized and executed the project. Over the course of a single semester, Freddie Gray died while in police custody and an uprising erupted in their own city. Most recently, on their first day of installation, nine people were murdered in a Charleston church by white supremacist Dylann Roof. The topic is “incredibly relevant, and regardless of race, we need to deal with these issues out in the open and stop pretending like they don’t exist.”
So far, Metzger said, the local response has been overwhelmingly positive. During installation, people pulled their cars over to take pictures or honked appreciatively as they passed; one woman even held up traffic to carry on a conversation about the work. “You could tell by the look in her eyes that she was grateful to see the work being put up,” Metzger said. “It’s our hope that a public piece of this scale helps to spark these conversations, and whether we agree or disagree, we’re at least opening up a dialogue regarding race relations here in America.”