Zupa, working in collaboration with the national art-activist group Art Responders, has created prints that spotlight the Washington Post project Fatal Force, whose website tracks statistics on police killings. So far in 2017, 271 people have been shot and killed by law enforcement officers across the United States. Five were unarmed black men, one a black woman.
Zupa, whose art has decorated the walls of Denver businesses with subtle environmental and political messages, has created three prints for the series not from woodcuts or copper plates, but from his engravings in traffic cones. The images are visceral, evoking early-1900s labor-movement posters. They depict a clear-cut battle between good and evil, in which a violent cop, plagued by demons, beats an unarmed black man.
This video shows the process Zupa used to make his images.
If April passes without a police killing of an unarmed black man, Zupa says he will distribute his work for free.
Zupa's imagery in these prints borrows heavily from the posters of José Guadalupe Posada, a Mexican printmaker who lived from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. "He was sort of a political cartoonist and illustrator for newspapers," says Zupa. "His stuff is really beautiful. There is a sort of lightness to it, but it's poetic a lot of times. The subject matter is often very, very heavy. But it never felt overly melodramatic."
The lyrics are blunt.
Chance the Rapper: "We just aiming back ’cause the cops shot you."
Vince Staples: "I ain't never ran from nothin' but the police."
Kendrick Lamar: "We gon' be alright."
And maybe Lamar is correct. After all, police killings of unarmed black men dropped between 2015 and 2016, Zupa points out, and says that's a reason to be optimistic.
The Black Lives Matter and anti-police-brutality protest movements nationwide may have caused that dip, he says, warning that without constant attention to the issue, those numbers may rise again.
To learn more about his project, go to Ravi Zupa's website and Art Responders' Facebook page.