On Friday, June 19, FIT’s Black Student Union supported the Black Lives Matter movement by installing a powerful exhibition entitled #ChalkThatTalk. The show, a series of chalk murals on FIT’s exterior walls, stretches along Seventh Avenue between 27th and 28th streets.
As described by the BSU leadership, “#ChalkThatTalk is an artistic response to the injustices faced by the Black community in recent times and throughout history. Using art to demonstrate the strength and influence of our generation, we hope to lift the community and drive positive change as well as initiating the first of change in our FIT community.”
Each mural tells a story through the eyes of the artist. There are memorials dedicated to Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, George Floyd, and Oluwatoyin Salau; tributes to Black female empowerment, Black transgender lives, and the Little Rock Nine, among others; and a range of symbols and phrases that represent power to the people.
Kiara Williams, BSU treasurer, conceived the idea of an exhibition as a form of peaceful protest after learning that a friend of hers was part of a protest group that was “chalking up” neighborhoods with messages in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Williams shared this idea with Ravan Patrick, BSU advisor, and then consulted with fellow students Awa Doumbia, BSU president; Joi Berry, BSU director of digital marketing and public relations; and Kennie Doram, BSU secretary. It was Doram who named the exhibition #ChalkThatTalk, a play on the title of Rihanna’s hit song “Talk that Talk.” Inspired by #ChalkFIT, an Illustration Department initiative, BSU leadership presented the idea to President Joyce F. Brown, who approved it, and planning was under way immediately.
Dan Shefelman, associate professor, Illustration, and the founder of #ChalkFIT, provided specifications for the panels, donated materials, and provided support on site. The cost of additional supplies from BLICK Art Material’s Harlem location was donated by the UCE of FIT and the President’s Office. With further guidance from Austin Thomas and Lobsang Tsewang of the School of Art and Design, the work took place over three days, culminating on June 19, known as Juneteenth, celebrated by African Americans as the anniversary of the emancipation of slaves in Texas on June 19, 1865. It is the commemoration of Black history, Black Reconstruction and Black America in 2020.
While the artists were putting the finishing touches on their murals, Dr. Brown and UCE of FIT President Roberta Elins conferred and agreed to declare Juneteenth an official holiday on the FIT academic calendar. This came as Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order declaring Juneteenth a holiday for New York state employees.
#ChalkThatTalk features art by FIT students and alumni; students from New York University, Pratt and Wagner College; a SUNY Stony Brook faculty member, and other artists, all of whom answered a call for submissions posted on Instagram and followed social distancing rules while doing their work.
#ChalkThatTalk is free and open to the public through August 31, 2020.