Activists are using the iconography of the “American martyr” to fight their own political battlesby Christiane Gruber / August 5, 2020 / Leave a comment
More than two months have passed since George Floyd died under the knee of an American police officer in Minneapolis. As Floyd lost his breath, he cried out “I can’t breathe,” words that have become a rallying cry for many protesting against systemic racism and police brutality.
The protests have resonated in public art throughout the US. Close to Cup Foods, where the killing took place, three artists created a large mural in Floyd’s honour, above. His name is embodied by the protesting masses, while other victims of racist killings are depicted as seeds unable to grow into a sunflower, the centre of which forms a black halo round Floyd. The mural now serves as a symbolic memorial where people offer candles, flowers, and other gifts.
Protests, vigils and visual commemorations in honour of Floyd have since spread across the world—in Europe of course, but also in Middle Eastern countries. The pictorial responses in Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan are most noteworthy because they reveal how his killing has touched a nerve among communities beyond the US.
The Iranian artist Mehdi “Amo” Rasooli, who is well known for his scathing critiques of America, produced a cartoon entitled American Debris that shows President Donald Trump sweeping the remains of human beings under the American flag.
Scattered among severed hands and bloodied bodies are black-and-white photographs of Floyd. Moreover, another Iranian artist produced a cartoon in which the American flag’s red stripes are drawn in blood red by the body of a deceased African-American dragged away by police officers (below).
These type of visuals stretch back to the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Many state-sponsored murals depict the US flag as though it were an instrument of death and destruction. Among them, one 15-storey mural in Tehran shows the US flag with stars transformed into skulls and red stripes turning into missiles. The slogan “Down with the USA,” as painted on the mural, transfers…