Though times have been tough and the path the movement walks along is dark with the tragedies that sparked the angered need for change, the Black Lives Matter movement has been a driving creative force in America. Since the first first time the chant “hands up don’t shoot” was broadcasted, that simple plea has turned into a complex message. Art is always our first response to complex messages. Artists and creators react in the way they know best, which is to share their thoughts, experiences, and dreams. Luckily in our new age art is easily accessible and widely exposed.
The Black Lives Matter movement has sparked a large wave of viral art. One of the most popular artist responses to the new civil rights wave for black Americans is Kendrick Lamar’s latest album “To Pimp A Butterfly”. The artist received the most Grammy nominations for this album than any other artists. The tracks are full of lyrics painting the picture of the struggles African Americans deal with daily (“We hate po-po / They wanna kill us dead in the streets for sure”) as well as focus on the pride many people of color still keep in their hearts despite all the discouragement (“The sky can fall down, the wind can cry now /The strong in me, I still smile / I love myself”). The album is rife with political statements and hopes for peace. But mostly it’s a stage for other black youths to stand on and sing along with Kendrick the powerful statements of pride amid troubling times.
The Black Lives Matter movement has also sparked the “Art Hoe Collective” movement; A collection of young black artists of all mediums, given a platform to showcase that which makes them more than just twerkers, or rappers, or taggers, but dancers, musicians, and artists. It focuses on inclusion and identity, two things that black artists often must neglect to be considered “successful” in the art world. It allows for young black artists who are LGBTA to feel free to express themselves openly and not feel the need to hide from the world at this dangerous time for both blacks and non-straight or non-gender-conforming. Amid those in the collective are Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games) and Willow Smith, both who have famously expressed what it’s like to face racism in the art industry and what it’s like having to deal with constricting gender expectations.
Beyonce made waves when she donned Black Panther regalia and performed during the super bowl halftime show. People were angry that she referenced a political message during the Superbowl. But even more black people have been angry that they’ve faced oppression for over 200 years in America. So it’s even. Kind of. This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Black Panther movement and much of their work still has to be done. Beyonce addresses this in her latest single “Formation” which references the Black Lives Matter movement, “hands up don’t shoot”, and the events of Hurricane Katrina. Police brutality and social injustice was a radical theme in her music video that debuted with the new song. It’s safe to say that like Kendrick, and those in the Art Hoe movement, Beyonce was feeling that her art had to reflect life, dark as it may be for many.
And finally, Thursday was the long awaited Yeezy Season 3 live stream by Kanye West. He has never been shy to express himself creatively, and excessively. The rapper is known for always making his opinion clear, and he’ll go as far as to interrupt a young new country singer’s acceptance speech to say it. His recent fashion line was displayed with his new album “The Life of Pablo”. The album of course has references to Black Lives Matter and the concept of black excellence in its lyrics. In the middle of the show Kanye’s models were seen holding up the black power fist.
American’s recent struggles being reflected in mainstream art is powerful and moving because it requires more thought and reflection than does conversations via debate, or on the news when these issues are referred to as “politics”. When it’s not just politics. It’s human rights. And art is human nature, that when used properly as it has been by these artistic civil rights movements can prompt real change of heart.