When Karim Farishta of Fort Bend first envisioned a virtual art gallery in memory of George Floyd, he had no way of knowing just how big the project would become. Since #ArtforJustice launched on June 8—a date chosen intentionally to coincide with Floyd’s memorial—the online project has received attention from Harvard University (Farishta recently graduated from the Ivy League’s Kennedy School of Government) and even the National Endowment for the Arts. “We were floored by the reaction we got,” he says. “Since then, the project has truly snowballed.”
Following the viral video that depicted Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody after an officer kneeled on his neck for 8 minutes 46 seconds, Farishta teamed up with Houston architectural visualization company INVI and asked artists to submit work showing the world they imagined, rather than the one they’re living in now. Soon, Farishta and INVI co-founders Afreen Ali and Giangtien Nguyen watched in awe as art from around the world began to flood their inboxes. #ArtforJustice, the project’s creators say, was based around a simple question: How do people of color show up in solidarity? That solidarity took the form of more than 160 submissions from 19 states and six countries in artistic mediums that ranged from paintings to protest photography to sculptures to abstract word art. And more keep coming.
Ali and Nguyen’s virtual building has also become an artistic layer unto itself. When people visit the free online museum, the first thing they see is a placid garden courtyard with a large sculpture of a raised fist at its center. The fist, a memorial to Floyd and homage to the early symbols for Black power, is the only piece inside this courtyard—a deliberate choice by the design team to make people slow down and reflect on recent events and the history that led to them before they explore the rest of the gallery. After navigating the garden, attendees go through the museum’s hallways, lined with the submitted art and quotes from those close to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Floyd. Just before the exit, the curators leave visitors with a challenge, asking them what they will do with their next 8 minutes and 46 seconds to make the world a better place. “People thought the museum was going to be a slideshow,” says Ali. “When they saw the end result, they were mind blown. Tien and I didn’t even have time to grasp the impact of what we’d designed until the thank yous started coming in.”
Starting a dialogue around change, wasn’t the only focus of the #ArtforJustice gallery, creators say. They also wanted to give younger artists—who are processing these painful times as much as their adult counterparts, but rarely receive the opportunity to voice their feelings—a platform to showcase their work. By centering the spotlight on the voices of young artists from around the country, the team hopes to leave a more lasting impression, and maybe even change a few minds along the way. “Children are giving us direction on a future we haven’t seen yet,” says Farista. “That’s paramount right now.”
Since the virtual museum’s opening, Farishta says he, Ali, and Nguyen have been in contact with schools, art programs, and other museums, showing them the possible applications for virtual architecture. They also hope to keep growing the current gallery as more art arrives. As far as they’re concerned, the virtual gallery can provide an open and accessible space where works that have captured this moment of upheaval can be showcased, celebrated, and, most important, discussed. “Art is very actionable. It has a very powerful way to incite conversations,” Farishta says. “If we can do that at homes, at schools, and on playgrounds, then we’re truly changing a conversation around justice.”
Visit the #ArtforJustice virtual museum at invi.us.