The May 25, 2020 death of American George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin sparked a range of emotions in many who watched the recording of the incident that led to his death.
For Jamaican-born, US-based marketer and visual artist Charles “Mark Phi” Smart, the incident left him feeling overwhelmend. He experienced anger as well as feelings of self-doubt, and a lingering feeling that he had not played his part in helping to bring about a more fair and just society in which everyone one recognises and respects the humanity in each other.
That sent Smart on a journey. This has involved the creation of a painting, titled 46 Pleas, and a four-part docuseries which has now been adopted by Ohio State University to be used as reference material in lectures and studies on racial injustice and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Smart recalled being stuck at home due to restrictions associated with the novel coronavirus pandemic around the time of the George Floyd incident and therefore was forced to watch the extents as they unfolded on television.
The subsequent protests and the escalation of the pertinence and prominence of the Black Lives Matter Movement spurred him into action .
“We were just at home and could not escape the news reports on this incident. All of this just pushed me and I decided to get my voice out there, show action, and it had to be something long-lasting. I didn't want it to be like a a number of these protest marches where the cause is forgotten once the march ends,” Smart told the Jamaica Observer.
Since 2014, he has been using his art and paintings to raise awarenees to various causes dear to him, and this moment in black history was to be no different.
“This is what I do with my art. So I took the words of George Floyd and turned it into a painting, coupled with my personal beliefs on Black Lives Matter and humanity, unity and oneness. I wanted to do more to combat the feelings on powerlessness I was also experiencing at the time. So I took up my camera and the four-part docuseries was the result.”
Smart said the series, titled Conflicted Coward, aims to change the narrative of helplessness and move towards empowerment, by rethinking the colonial constructs and value systems in a bid to dictate how society moves forward.
“I wanted to share the work... I wanted it institutionalised so that it could become a reference point for that moment in time. So once I created the work I was speaking about it to a friend of mine who introduced me to the dean of the College of Education and Human Ecology at Ohio State University and he was very interested in the works. We have since handed them over to the university,” Smart explained.
Just like the incident, last week's guilty verdict for Chauvin has left Smart conflicted.
“The real justice is if George Floyd had been able to go home. What we had displayed last week was one man being held personally accountable for his action. The bigger, picture is that there need to be a complete shift in the mindset, beliefs and behaviour. Justice will be when the system no longer empowers persons to act and display such inhumanity. We need to stop looking at individuals and start looking at the system,” said Smart.
Despite the accolades which Smart has received for his art, the Jamaica College past student has no formal training in the area. He picked up painting after attending a sip and paint event with a friend and his talents were recognised. Since then his works have been displayed at the Bob Marley Museum in St Andrew. Prints of this works which hang in a special exhibition are on sale and proceeds go to the various charities supported by the Bob Marley Group of Companies.