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We Stand Together: Indy artist Courtland Blade chronicles fight for justice

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — An Indianapolis artist is chronicling the city’s story in the push for justice by using paint.

Courtland Blade’s art exhibit “Voices of the Unheard” is on display now at the Harrison Center. The exhibit’s purpose is to feature images ingrained in our memory and bring them back to life. News 8’s Katiera Winfrey spoke to Blade.

BLADE: This body of work was dealing with kind of the reflection of the responses to the tragedy that happened in the last two months. The height and quality of all murders and brutality by officers to Black people and people of color. And then the response of the nation. But specifically our city. And how we responded as a people. Knowing how we responded in the past. While other nations rioted we had peace. So to see how we responded today, seeing who we are what issue should be kind of highlighted and shifted and changed and what might be pulled on or looked at but has always been there.

WINFREY: As an artist, how much of the world around you plays into the creative process?

BLADE: Well, everything. So everything around you is really filtered. I guess, well, I am the filter, but everything around feeds into the process. So the aesthetic components, they are always there. But then my personal experience as a Black male my age, and all those things, factor into what I create.

WINFREY: What was your emotion or what went through your mind when you saw the George Floyd video and you saw the aftermath of everything that happened?

BLADE: Well the George Floyd incident, that by itself, it felt like we got pulled back. It’s almost like we went back in time to a certain extent. Because in 2020, you would think you wouldn’t see things to the full extent. We know shootings are still happening, but for a man to press his leg on a man’s neck until he died and have that kind of disregard of life, that was another level.

WINFREY: And then the aftermath, all of the protest and all the rallies, what was that like being able to watch all that unfold in your own city?

BLADE: Yeah, saw that at first, it was like, OK this has happened. But then you start looking and thinking about history, and then you see the historic impact of it. How responses were during the Civil Rights movements. What the responses were and what the results were. And then today what our approach is and what the response was and hopefully the shift that will come after. It really feels like a pivotal and historic moment that is happening in our city.

WINFREY: You have so many different pieces around here. Talk about the process in determining which images to put on canvas. Were there other images you started and said, ‘I think this one is going to be more impactful’? How do you develop which pieces would go into this?

BLADE: So I try to pick images. They all have an aesthetic quality or artistic component that goes with our history and things of that nature. But the statements that were written. The composition, so images like this. We have the young lady who was out after curfew and how the police dealt with that situation. By me finding a visually striking image that would really draw the person into the image, then make them ask the question what happened. Or what’s going on. So all sorts of text. You have texts on the various walls and bridges and things of that nature. They all had very important statements like ‘Stop killing us, we need peace.’ One in particular I saw said, ‘Can you hear me now? Can you hear us now?’ And that one I couldn’t capture. I was going to go back, but it had already been painted over. So I wish I had gotten that one for a scene. So I got a lot of images I wanted to get but that one eluded me in a sense.

WINFREY: Now it’s interesting you say can you hear us now, a lot of people feel like the response either through protests, violence, destruction, why are you doing it that way? What do you say to people when they question how someone reacts to trauma or sadness. What do you say to people?

BLADE: I used to think when I was younger, why would you tear up the area? Then Martin Luther King said violent protest is essentially the voice of the unheard. So to get people’s attention you have to essentially hit people where it hurts. So if you tear something up that’s expensive, it gets attention. It gets people to look and see what’s going on, why are you doing this and that’s really people trying to be heard.

WINFREY: Do you feel now that people are starting to be heard? Do you feel like that conversation is moving forward?

BLADE: Yes, I certainly do. That’s one of the reasons why I felt like kind of a historic shift. You really saw that people responded. People of all different backgrounds, people of all different, I guess you would call, elite levels in society all the way down to the average. You see the conversation happening at every level.

WINFREY: What do you hope your artwork brings to this continued conversation or what do you hope it brings to the continued movement and push for change?

BLADE: Well hopefully again it was trying to make a spotlight on the unheard voices. The voices of people and what they were saying. So hopefully it helps draw people to it, analyze what needs to be done, what needs to be changed. And also for me, oil is a historic medium. It’s something that captures history. So this is something that will actually hold history as well, and we won’t forget that moment and shift that we saw it happening the past few months. We might not see it again but you won’t forget about it. So this also helps with that kind of memory and solidifying what happened.