MONTREAL – The global protests sparked by the brutal death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police took on a distinct form on Wednesday in Montreal: some twenty artists painted the now universal message “Black Lives Matter” in large letters right in the middle of rue Sainte-Catherine.
The street fresco, which covers an entire city block, at the western entrance to the “Gay Village”, was of course inspired by similar movements in other cities. But the gesture took on a distinct form in Montreal: the sentence was first written in French, in very large letters – “La vie des Noir.es compte” -, then in English, below and in smaller letters, as required by Quebec billing law.
The organizer of the event, Carla Beauvais, explained that to obtain the City’s agreement, the artists had agreed to paint the sentence in French. She also believes that this decision is positive, because it highlights the diversity of the movement which fights against racism and inequalities.
After the death of George Floyd in May, protesters took to the streets around the world to denounce racism and police violence against black people. The Montreal project is an initiative of the Fondation Dynastie, which celebrates the contributions of black and racial Montrealers, and the artist collective “Never Was Average”.
Curious people stopped on Wednesday to take photos and chat with the artists, splashed with paint, who created colorful patterns in the letters prepared on the pavement the day before by volunteers from community organizations. Ms. Beauvais explains that the project wanted to let the artists express what they feel. “We generally hear a lot of activists when we talk about” Black Lives Matter “, we rarely see what the artists feel,” she said on the spot, between Saint-Hubert and Saint-André streets.
Not just black people
Awa Banmana, 24-year-old artist and student, filled a large yellow “M” on Wednesday with patterns that reminded her of her Franco-Senegalese origins. “As an Afro-feminist, it is important to see black women represented in the public arena, not just women who are fair-skinned,” she said. She said most of the passers-by were either sympathetic to the cause or just curious, but some allegedly replied “All Lives Matter”, which became an insult to the movement.
The young woman wants people to understand that “The life of black people matters” is not just about black people. Rather, it is, she says, a broader critique and conversation about the system and our society, led by blacks, but in solidarity with other groups who face “systemic oppressions” », Including Aboriginals, people from LGBTQ + communities, the poorest and people with disabilities.
Another artist, who identified himself as Simo, chose to paint Erzulie Freda, “the voodoo goddess of love, health and beauty”, in order to introduce Montrealers to a culture that they may not know.
He admits that he was nervous about embarking on such an ambitious project, but he described the experience of painting in one of the most emblematic streets of Montreal as “cathartic”. “It’s very stimulating because I know most of these artists, and it feels like we are occupying the space,” he said.
Although the mural may not appeal to everyone, Ms. Beauvais hopes that it will provoke a debate on racism in Canada and the United States. Although the situation in the two countries is not the same, she said, “we are not in a race to be the worst.”
Montreal mayor Valérie Plante came to support the artists on Wednesday. The street fresco should remain in place until October – Sainte-Catherine Street in the “Village” is closed all summer to car traffic.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press
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