“Say His Name”
A city populated by protesters rises from a tear-streaked face. In the background, Stars and Stripes bears the message: “AMERICA, GOD BLESS YOU IF IT’S GOOD TO YAH.”
Demas, a graduate of St. John’s College High School in Washington, D.C., has created a powerfully resonant work of art in a time of uncertainty and change. As the artist says: “I want my portrait of George Floyd to emphasize his humanity.”
I’m a Black woman, yes, and I’m a Black person of privilege. I always thought that living in a certain type of house or getting a certain type of education exempted me from police brutality. But as I see these cases and see the people around me crying out, I realize that’s not the case.
The opportunity to create this painting for BET came at the right time. It gave me a sense of purpose, as the protests over the death of George Floyd coincide with a lonely feeling that comes from being stuck inside so long.
BET wanted an image that would resonate on social media. I already had an artwork I’d created called “City of Doubt” which shows a woman with a city growing out of her head. BET suggested using that painting as an inspiration for a portrait of George Floyd.
I went to a protest here in my hometown, Burtonsville, Maryland. As we were marching to music, Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble” came on. I thought back to Kendrick’s performance at the Grammy Awards that began with his lyric “America, God bless you if it’s good to you.” Kendrick had a flag flying in the background, and I wanted to use that visual in my painting as well.
When a soldier’s in distress, they fly the flag upside down. As Black people, we are in distress. I wanted to convey the message of pain. Placing the flag upside down does not imply I don’t love this country. But until I feel our humanity is acknowledged by everyone, I must fly it upside down.
I’ve been painting my whole life. At SCAD, majoring in industrial design became the bridge for all my artistic passions. I think the job of all designers is to improve the standard of living. Most designs are geared towards people of means who look a certain way. So, the real job of design is to create equity and open up conversations that may make people uncomfortable, but will ultimately generate understanding.
Professor Jr Neville Songwe was my favorite industrial design teacher at SCAD. I’d never seen a black industrial designer before, but it’s not just that. He was a professor who, if I didn’t get something right, would say, let’s sit down and go over this. It was never about an easy way out. He said, if learning isn’t going on, then I’m not doing my job. In his class, I created a design for a staple gun that I used as part of an application for a job with Stanley Black & Decker.
At SCAD, I was a member of the Black Student Association. It was the first time where I saw a black students association where the vice president was white. That’s progress. SCAD BSA is a fun place to see friends and work on projects together, share ideas and how they relate to our culture. Sometimes I’d bring people to our Sunday meetings who’d never been to BSA. It’s always great when new people come, and they see how welcome they are, which means they are welcome to challenge us and ask us questions.
I’ve received a lot of love regarding “Say His Name” from friends, family, and classmates, some of whom I hadn’t heard from in years. Messages of love from people I don’t know too. It gives me hope.