Artist Ravi Zupa Takes on Racist Police Killings


Amid the daily panic of the Trump administration, artist Ravi Zupa wanted to make sure Americans don't neglect the epidemic of police violence. So he collaborated with Art Responders, a San Francisco-based activist art collective, to create Countdown to Justice. The series of prints depicts scenes of police violence juxtaposed with lyrics from Chance the Rapper, Kendrick Lamar and Vince Staples referencing police violence and the necessity of continuing to demand that Black Lives Matter.

As the Denver-based Shepard Fairey collaborator told AlterNet over email, "most people don't realize how many of these events continue to occur. According to the Washington Post Fatal Force database, there have been six unarmed black citizens shot and killed by police in the U.S. this year including a 21-year-old pregnant woman. This is an average of two per month, but because the media has so much to contend with (understandably) very few people are aware of it."

The plan is to release a print each time an unarmed black person is killed by police, starting in April, leading up to Art Responder's "Antiviral: Countdown to Restorative Justice" event. Over six days, the group will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots following the beating of Rodney King at the hands of the LAPD.  

Zupa carved the prints on the interior of an orange traffic cone, then filled in the carving with black ink before printing the posters on an antique printing press. The work, as seen in the video below, was delicate, but the images are bracing and brutal.

In one print, an officer stands between two dragons, wielding a sword and stomping on a man on the ground. In some fairy tales, dragons are evil. In a world where some of the protectors have become the predators, it's possible dragons are man's only hope. Above the image are Staples' lyrics: "I ain't never ran from nothing but the police."

Swords are also brandished in a second print of a policeman whose face is a skull, complete with hollow, blacked-out eyes. His victim is a skeleton. Both have been stripped of their humanity, but only one gets to wear a uniform, and with it, unearned dignity. A bystander, also a skeleton, films the scene on a smartphone as the officer holds up his bony hand in protest. 

In the last print, the policeman is now the subject of attack. Here the dragons are on the side of the victims, each labeled with a tool for transparency and accountability: social media, body cameras, prosecution, smartphones. Zupa doesn't try to tie the story up with a bow, but instead delivers a note of cautious optimism from Kendrick Lamar: "We gon' be alright."  

Each picture also has a cockroach with a human face and a police hat at the bottom, and the message, "They're more afraid of you than you are of them." 

The prints will be priced at $35 each, with proceeds going to nonprofits dedicated to advocacy in the victims' communities. If no incidents occur before April 29, the first print will be sold for one dollar, the second 30 days later (if there are no incidents), and the third on June 30. They will also be on display as part of "Antiviral." 

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Cone Process from ravi zupa on Vimeo.

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