NA mural is an illustration of the creative reaction to collective grief, anger, and protest following the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. The George Floyd and Anti-Racist Street Art Database estimates that around 2700 pieces of street artwork have been created since Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer. Artist have emblazoned walls, sides of buildings, and stretches of streets with his image and the words “I can’t breathe” and “Black Lives Matter.”
The mural has long been one of the most engaging, if most ephemeral, forms of communicative art—a primarily public form, they’ve often served as a tool for revolution, community building, and remembrance. Here are five tributes to Floyd from all over the globe, including reflections by the artists two years later.
One woman remembers Floyd’s mural at Cup Foods, where he was killed.
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At the intersection of 38th and Chicago in Minneapolis, Minn., a space now known as George Floyd Square in honor of the man who died there, offerings are laid in front of a brightly colored mural that depicts Floyd’s face in front of a blooming sunflower. It also contains the names of victims of U.S. police brutality. This mural was created by Cadex Herrera and Greta McLain. It is located on the Cup Foods grocery shop, one block from Floyd’s murder..
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Herrera said that the mural represented a way to respect Floyd and break down the dehumanizing stories about him in the wake his death in media.
“We wanted to portray George Floyd with humanity and personhood, someone was part of his community,” he tells TIME. “He was a family man, a person that had life and spirit and brought joy to so many people in his community.”
Herrera, whose art practice is grounded in social justice, says the piece was painted just a few days following Floyd’s murder and was a community effort. It was the first ever mural to be dedicated to Floyd. This also marked the start of an international creative response to both the death and brutality of police officers. Herrera hopes that the mural’s legacy is one that sparks social change.
“I hope that it has opened up the conversation about police brutality and that we keep a close eye on all of the sort of atrocities that have been committed by law enforcement,” he says. “Hopefully, this art piece is just a small part of the wider movement and wider conversation as to what we need to do to stop these things from happening.”
The mural in Berlin was drawn by Dominican graffiti artist Jesus Cruz Artiles (also known as EME Freethinker).
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Jesus Cruz Artiles also knows as EME Freethinker. He was shocked to learn about Floyd’s fatal encounter with police brutality. This reminded him of the violent incident as a child in Dominican Republic. He felt both anger and despair, so he decided to act in the best way: through street art.
“I just wanted to say something, to do something,” he tells TIME. “This is a movement happening around the world.”
In the days following Floyd’s murder, Artiles painted a mural honoring him in the public park Mauerpark, which is famous for its strip of the former Berlin Wall, which has become a destination for graffiti artists. According to Artiles, who has created many pieces on the wall, while it’s commonplace for murals to be painted over in days, his mural of Floyd lasted far longer than any of his other work—something he considers to be a testimony to the importance of its message.
“We need to raise our voices against police brutality, against racism, because these things keep repeating,” he says. “I don’t want to have a reason to paint a mural like this again.”
On March 31, 2021, people pass a wall depicting Floyd’s face. The mural was located in Bethlehem.
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On Israel’s illegal separation wall running through Bethlehem, Palestine, a large mural of Floyd features the caption, “I can’t breathe. I want justice, not O2.” The image is the handiwork of Palestinian artist Taqi Spateen, who considered the parallels between the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight for Palestinian liberation as he created the mural.
For Spateen, the caption, which draws on Floyd’s famous last words, is a way to make a statement on how dignity and respect are just as vital for human life as oxygen is. “To be a human means many parts; we don’t just breathe oxygen, we breathe freedom, justice, peace, respect,” he says. Spateen’s decision to create the mural on the controversial wall of the West Bank is symbolic—he says he found connection between racism in the U.S. and ethnic cleansing in Palestine. “The wall is the face of racism, of occupation, it is something against humanity,” he says. It is an act of resistance, he says.
Spateen painted a mural depicting Floyd. He also painted one portraying Iyad al-Hallaq (a Palestinian man diagnosed with autism) who was killed and shot by Israeli police. This was intended to demonstrate the collective struggle of Palestinians, Black Americans and other oppressed groups.
“If I didn’t do it, I [would] feel like I’m not using my art—because to be an artist is to have a responsibility to care about humanity,” he says.
On June 3, 2020, Allan Mwangi (also known as Mr.Detail.Seven) paints a graffiti mural featuring Floyd.
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Allan Mwangi (known as “Mr. Detail Seven, first saw the footage of Floyd’s murder in 2020, he felt a rising surge of anger about the injustice of the incident and the all-too-real threat of police brutality. The Nairobi-based artist knew it would be fruitless to just sit with this intense emotion, so he channeled it into art, creating a vibrant mural alongside his fellow artist, Bankslave, in the capital’s Kibera neighborhood.
“When I saw that video, it hit a nerve,” he tells TIME. “I thought it would be a good opportunity to express the way I feel about the whole situation by doing the mural.”
This mural is dedicated to Floyd’s life and calls attention to police brutality. In another part of the wall it shows a police officer sitting on top of an individual. Adjacent to the drawing of Floyd’s face, the Swahili word Haki, which means “justice” is painted in bold, oversized letters.
Mwangi, who reflects on the mural two-years later, feels that the police brutality issue that he sought to address with his art remains as pressing as ever. But he believes his piece has stimulated more conversation about this issue.
“I hope it’s a reminder that we are all human,” he says. “There’s no need to ever treat each other in such a way.”
Binnish in Syria
A graffiti artist Aziz Asmar has created a mural of Floyd that can be seen in a wall made of house ruins, Binnish, Idlib, Syria on June 2, 2020.
Izzeddin Idilbi—Anadolu Agency/Getty Imagesy
For Aziz Asmar, Floyd’s murder was intimately familiar, even if it happened halfway across the world. Filled with sorrow, he created a mural for Floyd on the remnants of a building that he says was a family’s kitchen before an airstrike destroyed it.
“The way he was killed, it is the same of thousands and thousands of people who were killed in the same way in Syria,” he says, speaking via an interpreter. “Our revolution is based on justice—we are against injustice totally. When George said, ‘I can’t breathe,’ I felt the same feeling and decided to draw the mural.”
Asmar, who is the instructor of art workshops for kids in Idlib (the last rebel-held area in Syria), says turning to art has allowed him to recover his humanity. This, he believes, is an universal need.
“Drawing is a world language everyone can understand,” he says. “We are all brothers around the world, and we just want peace.”
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