Artist and Westword MasterMind Ravi Zupa doesn't want the public to forget that police continue to kill unarmed black people – even as the actions of President Donald Trump's administration have jerked attention away from criminal-justice reform and the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement.
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.
Here's how the prints will be distributed, according to Zupa's artist statement: "Beginning April 1, each killing of an unarmed African American by U.S. police will trigger the release of one print. All three print editions will sell at $35 apiece, and 100 percent of all proceeds will go to community organizations in the local area where the incident took place."
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."
To his images, Zupa added hip-hop lyrics about police killing black people and some of his own writing. "Most of the text comes from specific songs that deal with police violence toward black people by the three hottest young rappers happening right now that I really like," Zupa says. "I lifted those lyrics and tried to make images that cooperated well with those."
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."
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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.