“I wanted to paint the last thing pre-Med graduate Atatiana Jefferson was doing before she was killed by the cops,” he wrote in an Instagram message posted with his artwork.
His perspective has struck a chord.
Channeling change through ‘the power of art’
For Smith, 34, focusing on Jefferson’s final, beautiful scene reflects the message he hopes his art gives to the world, he said.
“I’ve seen firsthand some of the … worst of what we think of in terms of being singled out for just having black skin,” he said. “I just feel like, in a way, my art is kind of a tool to fight that. I want to use my blackness to bring a different point of view.”
“I don’t want it to be qualifier, like her life mattered more because she was educated,” he said. “But that’s something that’s not often highlighted in terms of black lives.”
For Smith — himself an uncle who diapered, then later played Xbox with his own nieces and nephews — seeing his art displayed at life size on Capitol Hill via C-SPAN was “a surreal moment,” he said.
“I didn’t imagine anyone blowing my artwork up that way,” he said. It drove home “the power of art. And to see how he was using it to really call for police reform, it was unbelievable.”
Allies can simply ‘share this art piece’
Smith has considered calling the project a wrap, he said, but then hears from people who are moved by his pieces. “Somebody said to me, ‘If you stop doing these, who’s going to do them?'” he said.
Smith’s works often aim “to say: We are all on the same team, we’re in the same boat, we’re all one human race.” They also can serve as a vehicle for anyone who might struggle to find the right words to share the values his pieces convey, he said.
“I think one of the biggest messages is to say to white people, you can be an ally in this fight with us,” he said. “You can use your voice to speak out. And sometimes, it might be as simple to share this art piece. If you feel like you don’t have the words to say, just share this art piece, to show people that you are standing in solidarity.”
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