At Sherman Street and East 18th Avenue, a wire sculptural portrait of Elijah McClain, the 23-year-old violinist and massage therapist who died after a violent encounter with Aurora police officers on August 24, 2019, floats like an angel by the Colorado State Capitol.
Photos of the sculpture, installed by Baltimore artist Reed Bmore over the weekend, were shared on social media by Kali Fajardo-Anstine, the Denver author of the award-winning short-story collection Sabrina & Corina.
"When I first saw Reed Bmore’s stunning piece, I was standing on Sherman Street, facing away from the Capitol, and looked upward at Elijah and his violin and little cat," she says. "Then I stood across the street, in direct line of the Capitol, and I saw Elijah above us all, our lawmakers, our symbolic center. The work has a peaceful quality that’s in direct opposition to Elijah’s brutal murder by the Aurora Police Department."
Other prominent Denver artists have taken note of the piece, from Thomas "Detour" Evans, who painted his own mural of McClain, to Colorado Poet Laureate Bobby LeFebre, who has long railed against police violence, to pop singer YaSi, an outspoken critic of the APD.
Baltimore-based Bmore, a wire artist and self-proclaimed "pretendgineer," has been camping across the United States for the past few weeks. Along the way, he has been installing often-whimsical wire sculptures on city traffic lights, a creative practice he has perfected over the past six years.
Bmore came to Denver to drop off a few sculptures and stock up on supplies for his cross-country travels. While he was here, he decided to pay tribute to McClain, whom he had learned about through social media.
"Elijah hit me, deep," says Bmore. "He's a kid. He's a musician. Reading about him and looking at his videos, he reminded me of close friends that I have. The small characteristics associated that we love and we can't help but love — if this is understood, there should be no question that these tears are universal. He was an innocent in love with life."
Bmore's home town of Baltimore has had its own bouts with police brutality since Freddie Gray was killed by police in 2015.
"The reason why the movements like BLM and protesting started happening is the same reason why Black families have to have a talk with their children about how to act around police at around the same age other families are teaching kids to ride bikes or tie shoes," Bmore says. "This social imbalance is fucking disgusting, and until something is recognized or the gigantic elephant in the room of systematic racism or racist preference is talked about — but more importantly empathized and understood — we cannot move forward."
While street art in Denver has too often served as a marketing tool of developers, with only occasional nods to social-justice issues, Bmore argues that the art form has a higher purpose.
"There are some weird energies looking at graffiti and street-art culture," he says. "But on a base level, they are the unapologetic voice of the people, and it is important to scream accordingly with issues that affect the unheard."
Art can document the social and cultural context we're living in, he explains, and artists have a role, working alongside journalists and activists, in decrying injustice.
"I feel overwhelmingly happy about life, but on the same coin, deeply disturbed and saddened by how callous humans can be," Bmore says. "This is what drives a lot of my political art pieces, and I hope the work can help people think."
While his art captures McClain's gentle spirit, there is nothing soft in Bmore's message for this city.
"I love you, Denver," he says. "Don't ever stop fighting the good fight, make racists afraid again, fuck corporations, fuck this imbalanced system, and fuck off if you put your neighbor down instead of lifting them up."
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