Civil rights activists from the 1950s and ’60s have remarked upon how quickly the Black Lives Matter movement reignited after George Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. Some of this momentum was fueled by social media: In New York, the Instagram account @justiceforgeorgenyc, which provides a schedule of events and ongoing coverage, garnered more than 200,000 followers within a few weeks.
In recent months, art critics for The New York Times have cited several accounts about black art, history and thought, including those of the curator Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, the artists Cauleen Smith and Kara Walker, and the architect David Adjaye, who led the consortium that designed the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. Here are some other accounts that are among my current favorites.
One area where change is occurring most swiftly is in the removal — sometimes forcibly by protesters, sometimes by municipal construction crews — of statues celebrating men associated with colonialism, slavery and genocide. Monument Lab, founded by the curator and historian Paul M. Farber and the artist Ken Lum in Philadelphia, has been on the case since 2012, mapping, tracking and discussing public art and the history and future of the monuments we have inherited. There is a lot at stake here: taxpayers paid approximately $40 million in the last decade for the upkeep of Confederate monuments alone; Monument Lab posted a map showing their locations. Other posts imagine what we might install in our public spaces to champion inclusivity and the contributions of a larger slice of society.
SUNU Journal is devoted to Pan-African culture. A short video on the journal’s website describes how people can be archivists and “messengers” for culture of the African diaspora, and Instagram is a good method for disseminating such information. A recent post showcased “Black Star 2” (2012), a painting by the African-American artist Kerry James Marshall that uses the now-ubiquitous red, black and green coloring of black and African liberation flags. Another post draws attention to Youth Day in South Africa, which commemorates the Soweto uprising on June 16, 1976, when thousands of students protested a directive by the apartheid government imposing Afrikaans as the language of instruction. SUNU Journal is particularly good at showing how struggles and uprisings across the African diaspora are all connected.
Duro Olowu, a Nigerian-born British fashion designer — who is also married to Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem — is Instagram at its best. Mr. Olowu’s clothes have been worn by Michelle Obama and Solange, but on social media he geeks out on art, street fashion and great actors, singers, activists and leaders. A recent post features the painting “Sun Ra” (2016) by Stanley Whitney, a gorgeous, color-saturated grid that takes its title from the visionary African-American experimental jazz musician. Another features a photograph by Richard Avedon titled “Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Headed by Julian Bond, Atlanta, Georgia” (1963) from the book “Nothing Personal” (1964), which includes text by Avedon’s high school friend James Baldwin — a wonderful example of the collaborations that exist between artists and allies.
Platforms like Instagram and YouTube have produced individuals who are best known for their work in those forms. Willy Ndatira, a London-based designer and fashion consultant who has more than 92,000 followers, is one such person. Recent posts include the Aboriginal artist Richard Bell’s works that borrow Roy Lichtenstein’s Pop paintings inspired by comics — replaced with texts like “Thank Christ I’m Not Aboriginal!” or the painter Benny Andrews’s “No More Games” (1970), which confronts American racism, or Eve Arnold’s photographs of students in the early 1960s training for civil rights resistance, learning not to react to different forms of harassment. During the early days of the pandemic, Mr. Ndatira offered a beautifully comforting post in the form of a list, reminding his followers that “Not Everything Is Canceled.” Included on the list were spring, relationships, love, reading, music, imagination and kindness. The list ended, “Hope is not canceled.” And then, as if answering Mr. Ndatira’s call, the Black Lives Matter movement kicked into high gear.