For the past couple months, my Instagram feed has been filled with benign photographs of homemade food, flowering plants, and the creative projects people had undertaken while in coronavirus-mandated lockdown. Then, on May 25, George Floyd was killed in police custody in Minneapolis, sparking protests around the country. Instagram had already been a space for organizing and activism, but overnight that seemed to become its primary purpose. Calls to action, pictures and videos from demonstrations, and educational posts about defunding the police flooded into view.
Social media, as flawed as it is, can be a valuable tool. But I wanted to return to aesthetics and consider the many visual manifestations of “Black Lives Matter”: Pictures of the protests, yes, but also photographs of black life unrelated to police (or other) brutality, and, just as important, the visionary creations of black artists. Images alone can’t bring about change, but they can jump-start our imaginations and help us see more clearly. Here are a few accounts doing that.
If I had to pick an Instagram favorite these days, it would be Cauleen Smith’s account. Since the pandemic began, the artist has been sharing some of her remarkable, experimental short films under the hashtag #shutinfilmfestival.