On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner was killed in a police chokehold. Weeks later, Michael Brown was shot. And on a snowy November day, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was killed as he played alone in a playground gazebo. The killing of unarmed black men did not just begin. But it has become exhausting, horrifying, constant.
Artist/Xavier art professor Jonathan Gibson turned to portraiture to try to process all of it, creating a series of five African-Americans killed by police in recent years along with the five Dallas police officers shot in July. “Portraits are the dominant mode of identification for both victims and the accused—professional headshots, mug shots, portraits in frames at funerals,” says Gibson. “I think subconsciously we look to the image of the person to make initial judgments.”
He was drawn to personal stories, family accounts, and obituaries. “I wanted to highlight the radiance of their lives, voids they will leave behind,” he says. “The line work read as both violent and effervescent. The tension and balance between the two became central.”
Gibson doesn’t see this work as a protest, but says it has changed him: “I have greater compassion for those willing to put that first step onto the pavement for something they believe in.”
On view in the Xavier University library thru December. See all 10 portraits below.