For photographer and artist Grace June, confrontation has never come naturally. But with her latest photo series, June has found a way to add her voice to the conversation without forgetting to listen. The series, June said, is titled “We Hear You” in response to those who have said, “I can’t breathe.”
“I don’t like to argue, I don’t like to get into ‘us versus them,’ ” June said. “But there is a time where we need to come together and ask questions, to listen and be respectful and work together.”
While watching and reading media coverage after George Floyd’s death at the hands of police, June, who is not a person of color, felt called to join the conversation in her own way.
“I want to celebrate the strength of these people who have persevered despite the hypocrisy of our system … and to help people ask questions and consider what their preconceptions may be,” she said.
An image of the Statue of Liberty wrapped in police tape came to her first.
“It’s this icon of American freedom and liberty, a bastion of those beautiful ideals for every citizen, allegedly,” she said.
In “We Hear You,” June uses archetypal imagery to elevate and highlight local artists and individuals of color. The series features Lady Justice (Ginger Ewing), St. Sebastian (Cylas Palacios), Statue of Liberty (Bethany Montgomery), the Lincoln Memorial (Afaria Duke) and the Madonna (Michelle Michael).
Last week, June’s “We Hear You” collection was one of 20 to receive a Black Lives Matter artist grant from the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at WSU. Public health guidelines allowing, June hopes to plan an in-person display in the new year. But, for now, the collection is only available online.
“The meaning of the images has evolved for me over and over again now,” June said, explaining how she has learned from the photos and their subjects over the course of the editing process. “It came from a place of curiosity and also pain and concern and fear.
“A lot of times, it’s, frankly, the easier path to go with the flow rather than really looking at something that is intensely sad and painful and uncomfortable,” she said.
But in this case, she felt compelled.
“It was like a jolt of lightning, like, ‘Oh my God, what can I do?’ ” she said. “‘I have art, I can take photos.’ ”
June is no stranger to covering difficult subject matter in her art. Her last series, “The Survive Project,” dealt with suicide, trauma and mental health. But this project brought a new layer of difficulty.
“In a lot of ways, I don’t feel safe talking about it or even posing these questions,” she said, explaining how she’s frequently been made aware of areas lacking in her understanding. “But from the bottom of my heart, I’ve always wanted to reach out to people who are suffering.”
To view the “We Hear You” collection, visit gracejune.art/wehearyou.
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