New York artists turn plywood from Black Lives Matter protests into sculptures

For New York artist Tanda Francis, the Black Lives Matter protests during the summer of 2020 were an historic event.

To honor those who participated and create a permanent tribute to the racial justice movement, Francis took plywood used to board up storefronts across the city last year and turned it into a sculpture called “RockIt Black.”

“To transform this plywood that was on the streets during the Black Lives Matter actual uprising is… amazing,” Francis told Reuters. “In my work, I actually use the color black and actually try to elevate it, kind of contrast to how it’s been sort of stigmatized in our culture.”

A sculpture by artist Tanda Francis called “Be Heard” in Queensbridge Park,  July 16, 2021. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon
A sculpture by artist Tanda Francis called “Be Heard” is seen in Queensbridge Park, Queens borough of New York, U.S., July 16, 2021. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

Francis was one of five artists chosen to participate in The Plywood Protection Project organized by worthless studios, a New York not-for-profit.

“New York City was covered in this plywood during COVID shutdowns and, you know, the peak of the Black Lives Matter protests,” said Neil Hamamoto, founder of worthless studios, as he stood next to the “Be Heard” sculpture by Behin Ha Design Studio in Thomas Paine Park in Lower Manhattan. “To me, it felt important to recycle the material because of its power and rhetoric.”

The five sculptures appear across the city and will remain on display until Nov. 1.

The summer of 2020 saw the biggest protests for racial justice and civil rights in a generation, triggered by the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer.

Skylar Barnes, who works and lives in the Bronx near the “In Honor of Black Lives Matter” sculpture, said the artwork reminds her of the reasons why people went out to the streets.

“I see that the sculptures are speaking out that we need some more justice and that laws need to be fixed. So there could be equality for everyone,” said Barnes.

Artist Tanda Francis poses with her sculpture ‘Be Heard’ in Queensbridge Park, July 16, 2021. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon