In Lisa Myers Bulmash’s collage entitled “Janus: Restless,” her great-grandfather’s portrait rises above a metal-plated first-aid kit, while a string maps out his journey as a black man — and Civil War veteran — trying to get medical attention. He was turned away from three veterans hospitals after being shot by a man who refused to pay him for labor.
Another piece called “A Terrible Dream,” was born out of Myers Bulmash’s fear for the safety of her kids in the wake of a string of black deaths at the hands of white police officers.
“You could say these represent two chronological ends of the spectrum of violence against African Americans,” Myers Bulmash said.
Both of these pieces are featured in an exhibit at the Columbia City Gallery called “Black Lives Matter: Humanity Not Negotiable.” It aims to express the impact of state violence on black lives, building on the Black Lives Matter movement spurred by the death of Trayvon Martin and the non-indictments of police officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
“A movement has always taken artists,” said curator Naomi Ishisaka. “We need folks who lead marches and protests — we wouldn’t be here without them — but also creative people and people of good heart who contribute in whatever way they can.”
The exhibit, which runs through May 17, features 21 pieces chosen by a jury out of a pool of more than 100 submissions. Many of the artists had never been featured in a gallery.
Ishisaka, who documents “Black Lives Matter” as a journalist and photographer, said the exhibit stretches expectations for what kind of imagery represents the movement. Among black-and-white photographs of protests and a haunting portrait of Martin are the smiling, warm faces of three black youth.
“The gallery tries to show not only that black lives matter, but says, ‘Look at these black lives. Look at these complexities, these nuances, the beauty, the tragedy: all the things that encompass these experiences,” she said.
Ishisaka said she hopes the gallery sparks dialogue and helps people explore their own biases, especially in the local neighborhood, where she has seen issues of gentrification, race and policing deeply affect the community.