Why did you paint on the Trayvon Martin case?
This case hit pretty close to home. When I was a youth, I had friends on both sides of a brutal rape and murder of a 13 year old girl. It was a shock to the system that someone you knew could be involved in such a horrible crime and the victim be a classmate of my brother’s at the same time. The police detectives harassed me for confession letters and forced me to search my house without a warrant by saying they would subpoena me in the case at court to testify against my friend. My mom had already found the letters and threw them out although he didn’t confess to anything in those letters. Years later it turned out that Chicago police had staged several crime scenes to be able to pin an unsolved case on someone to be able to serve “justice”, which makes you wonder was he really guilty? In this case, it was black on black crime, which the media quickly forgot after catching the perpetrators. The really sad part of the case was the mother moved out of the hood in Chicago to the suburbs to raise her daughter outside of that environment. I suppose by selling drugs in her home she exposed her daughter to some shady elements as well in the process despite being out of the hood.
Why do you think the jury found George Zimmerman not guilty?
Unfortunately, the way the “stand your ground” law was written in Florida, you can basically follow someone around in your neighborhood and have a stand off right in the middle of the street with little repercussion. I think the intention of the law was to cut down on drive by shootings of gang bangers, but they have definitely gone too far in the definition of self-defense and in particular this case, since it obviously allows stalking a suspect as allowable. The interesting point that social media sleuths pointed out was the case of Marissa Alexander, a mother who gave a warning shot to an abusive husband in the name of “stand your ground” yet was sent to prison 20 years. It definitely looks to be like Jim Crow never left the Deep South if you look at just these two cases. Of course, you need to look at many cases to get the full picture of overall justice being applied in those courts.
Why was there such an outcry?
Well, the country has various race history in the Deep South that has been white washed or forgotten over time yet takes a long time to transition out of. With the election of Obama, some people living on well integrated coasts of the country thought we were living in a post-racial America. This case showed drastically how powerless Obama was in the face of the existing Florida justice system, which is how it is structured, since he was elected to the Executive not Judicial system. Other elements on the case were his young age and type casting as a thug vigilante despite having no weapon vs. a stalking adult.
What elements do you have of the case in your painting?
Of course, you have to include the Skittles in Trayvon Martin’s pockets, which really captures the fact that this was a youth killed without a weapon. In the painting, I have 5 rows of 10 columns of circles representing the candy in this kid’s pocket. The 10 and 5 also represent the bail set for George Zimmerman of $150,000. Inside the circles I have various photos from the plot leading up to this tragedy.
I included elements representing the “Stand your ground” law and aspirations of George Zimmerman, studying to be a police officer. He was influenced by the idea of being a neighborhood watch guardian that citizens put together to reduce communal crime. In the case of Sanford, there had been numrerous burglaries in the neighborhood, reported to be by black youth. So when Trayvon’s family stayed the summer in Sanford, they had no idea the dangerous tempest brewing in Sanford for their son to walk through.
What were some of the artistic interpretations of the case?
Most of the artists focused on either Trayvon Martin or George Zimmerman. Below are some of the art pieces made from the case besides mine. The most disturbing trend was George Zimmerman capitalizing on the case by making a flag and court paintings copied direct from photos, altering them in photoshop and then selling them on eBay for $100,000.
What do you think the selling price of $100,000 says about art collectors?
I would say some collectors look for notoriety and a story in a painting. This had both as the guy killed a youth and got away with the crime. I do find it disturbing that eBay and Zimmerman would make money off a terrible event.
Are there other paintings of tragedy that are worth so much?
Turner painted the famous story of a slave ship captain that dumped 133 slaves overboard to be able to make more on the insurance payment for “lost cargo”. Turner was criticizing the slave trade in this painting, but considering the market value over $32 million, it makes you wonder a bit on the values of the art market itself.
Is the work for sale?