Mother of Trayvon Martin lends her voice to art exhibition exploring social inequality

Mother of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager that was shot by George Zimmerman in Florida, speaks at Los Angeles exhibition exploring social inequality through art.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES (MAY 6, 2015) (REUTERS) – Sybrina Martin, mother of the slain teenager Trayvon Martin, spoke on a panel discussion on Wednesday (May 6) in Los Angeles at Manifest Justice, an art activist showcase focused on the theme of social inequality.

“And when I pick myself up off that floor and I open my hand full of tears, I told myself, you can do better than this, you can do more than this, and I got up from there that day and I decided that I have to be a spokesperson for people for people that can’t speak, I have to be a spokesperson for the voiceless. My son is not here to speak for himself, I am Trayvon Martin,” Sybrina said to a packed house; visitors unable to find seats or standing room in the lecture hall stood in stairwells and adjoining exhibit rooms listening to Ms. Martin’s voice over the speaker system.

Sybrina, mother of Trayvon Martin who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in a case that came into the national and global spotlight, has become a spokesperson promoting awareness about violent crimes and their effects on families and communities. She also speaks passionately about racial profiling and human civility.

“You will pull your car over to help an animal that’s being injured before you will help another human being than I’m speaking to you, I’m speaking to you, because it’s about awareness, because it’s about admitting when we have a problem,” Sybrina Martin said.

Her son, Trayvon, was shot unarmed after Zimmerman claimed he acted in self-defense during a confrontation in a neighborhood in Sanford, Florida.

Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch volunteer, followed and stopped the teenager because he thought he was suspicious. He was acquitted of murder in February of this year.

The pop-up exhibit, presented by Sons & Brothers in partnership with Amnesty International, is a collection of pieces by over 150 artists including Sandow Birk, Jordan Weber, Jerome Lagarrigue, Jim Darling and Michael D’Antuono.

Art, as a the tip of the spear for social change, is the goal of organizers and participants reacting to indignation following the deaths of Trayvon Martin in Florida, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York.

A series of fatal police confrontations across the country that have put law enforcement agencies under scrutiny over the use of force, especially against minorities, the poor and the mentally ill.

30-year-old Jordan Weber, a native of Des Moines, Iowa, began as an environmental activist but felt compelled to address the social injustice issues facing the nation through his artwork.

“Everything that I do has a base in environmental activism so when I was a street artist it was always for some sort of change, environmentalism more than racially charged but reacting to what’s been going on in America and seeing things firsthand and getting older and bigger and being a threat to different entities, naturally I’m falling into this activist’s role, more than from street art than fine art,” Weber told Reuters, sitting in front of his installation artwork “American Dreams Phase 2”.

Beginning with “American Dreams Phase 1” in which cartoonesque blood splatter out of a revamped police cruiser, the piece has since transformed to “Phase 2”, an aggressive art structure with soil from Ferguson and LA packed into the seats with plants growing out of windows and roof of the car.

Weber, who began as a street artist, sees his role as an activist and hopes to inspire social activism using art as his medium to express his own views on the historical impact of current events.

“Yes, it’s the most urgent thing that I think we can be doing as artists right now, I spoke before about arts being commercially based most of the time and you know with this new ideology of domestic terrorism, art is a safe way to protest and extremely meaningful and powerful and I think you reach a lot more people than you would protesting on the street,” Weber said. His 600 pound installation was transported in two pieces by truck and trailer to Los Angeles.

While many of the pieces were created specifically for the Manifest Justice exhibit, some like LA based artist Sandow Birk have been chronicling the ‘ugly truths’ present in the American society for decades.

Prisonation: Visions of California in the 21st Century, is a series of paintings and prints depicting California’s 33 state prisons, currently one piece from the series is on loan to the Manifest Justice gallery.

Hearing on the radio one day that California has the largest percentage of its population in prison, anywhere on Earth, he was shocked by the statement.

“And it was seen as the most ambitious, most optimistic place in the United States and 150 years later it has become the most incarcerated people in the world. And it was such a shocking change from what the aspirations of what California were to what it’s become and I just thought to myself, wow, I don’t know much about prisons maybe I should go look at one, and that led me to go look at one and another and then I ended up visiting and painting all 33 of California state prisons,” Birk told Reuters.

Birk is also well-known for a series called “The Rakes Progress: The life and times of Rafael Perez”, a collections of four paintings following a central figure in the LAPD Rampart Scandal

Mounting momentum across the United States in communities where they feel minorities are disproportionately targeted and badly treated by police, reached a fever pitch at the end of April when protests in Baltimore turned violent and dozens of buildings and vehicles were burned, 20 police officers injured and more than 200 people arrested.

“We’re talking about life and death, we’re talking about livelihood, we’re talking about the future of our children, I don’t think there is an issue of more urgency than what we’re covering here. This is timely conversation and a timeless conversation, but it’s an urgent conversation,” community organizer, Yosi Sergant said.

Sergant, a well-respected members of the arts community is best known for his involvement in the “Hope” poster by Shepard Fairey creating for President Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential election, the exhibit is a community sourced call-to-action which he was comissioned to organize.

The U.S. Justice Department on Friday (May 8) announced a federal civil rights investigation into the legality of the Baltimore police department’s use of force and whether there are “systemic violations” as well as any pattern of discriminatory policing.

The announcement came less than one month after the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man injured in police custody, sparked outrage in Maryland’s largest city, although the department’s wider investigation is not specifically tied to his case.

The Justice Department has conducted similar reviews of U.S. police departments. An investigation of police in Ferguson, Missouri, where a white officer shot dead an unarmed black teenager last year, concluded in March that the department routinely engaged in racially biased practices.

This is positive sign says Hawkins, a former lawyer presently serving as executive director at Amnesty International.

“The other thing I find hopeful now is how people around an issue like police accountability how now there is an awareness that has gone beyond just the impacted communities, so there’s a lot that I think that’s new, that’s different and I think the art that’s here today at Manifest Justice is an expression of that hope,” Hawkins said.

The Manifest Justice pop-up exhibit will continue until Sunday (May 10).