"Summer of Protest: 2020” Exhibition at Prama Art Space and Gallery Examines the 2020 Cleveland George Floyd Protests

click to enlarge Part of the Summer of Protest exhibition - Photo by "No Numbers"
Photo by "No Numbers"
Part of the Summer of Protest exhibition

The "Summer of Protest: 2020” exhibition at Prama Art Space and Gallery in Parma opens tonight (6 to 9 p.m.) and runs through August 22.

Featuring documents of and sentiments about last year's protests in Northeast Ohio following the murder of George Floyd by former police officer Derek Chauvin, the exhibition includes works by AJ Almy, Anderson Rush, Nico Pico Train, Denyce Renee, Joyce Morrow Jones, Anastasia Pantsios and No Numbers.

Most notably, the works document the protests in downtown Cleveland when demonstrators gathered at the Justice Center and were faced with police aggression including flash grenades and tear gas. Many of those who were subjected to unprovoked police violence that day have sued local officials.

Signs reading “No Justice, No Peace" were touted around, and more reading “Can’t Breathe” and “Black Lives Matter” were taped on the doors of Cleveland’s Justice Center as tensions and aggressions increased throughout the day until Mayor Frank Jackson declared a state of civil emergency due to the unrest and instituted an 8 p.m. curfew. By then, there were many busted storefront windows and some fires in the riot that followed the demonstration.

Writer, researcher and photographer Anastasia Pantsios was in the midst of the protests downtown and was able to capture some of the candid moments. In the exhibition, she shares not only the photos but her passionate take on what she thought was going on on this day last summer.

“There was no riot. I think the demonstration — which was a majority young woman, evenly split between black and white — showed that the excuses the Cleveland police has been making and lies they've been telling about incidents such as the murder of Tamir Rice aren't being swallowed by a large group of people and the attitude of police officials (specifically the police union) will have to change if we want to get serious about addressing violence and injustice in Cleveland,” said Pantsios. “We can't have safe communities with more cops bashing more heads making more people angrier.”

Many claim that the majority of the violent and destructive acts were not primarily perpetrated by people who were there to exercise their right to peacefully protest and demonstrate what they felt to be a grave injustice and emblematic of a broken law enforcement system and a societal breakdown.

“What I wanted to show in my photos was the real mood of the demonstration and the range of people and emotions it evoked,” said Pantsios. “We heard a lot about people breaking windows on Euclid, an incident that happened several hours after the demonstration and wasn't caused by the people demonstrating. The number of demonstrators throwing things at the courthouse doors was tiny and properly trained and prepared cops could easily have pulled those people out with full crowd support; instead they lobbed teargas and pepper spray at peaceful protestors. I wanted to superimpose that with what the crowd was there to express.”

Prama Gallery owner and curator Sean Mabin became fascinated with the documentation of these events and the expressive work it inspired in local artists, and he jumped at the opportunity to put these works on display.

“It was photo documentation that changed minds regarding the Vietnam War in the '60s. It was photo documentation that revealed the way POWs were being treated in the Iraq war. When I saw the images coming out of Cleveland during the protests I knew they were important and deserved showing,” said Mabin.

Although the work is primarily photographic, another artist took a different approach to documenting the way the protest affected her.

moCa Cleveland’s Artist in Residency, and visual and oral storyteller, Joyce Morrow Jones constructs dolls and mixed media sculptures to express her passions and interpretations. Pieces like “When Will Justice Be for All,” was created during the protests last summer and features a female anthropomorphic tree. Embodied in this depiction is a flag draped in a memorial with flowers laying on it.

“I envisioned all those whose lives were lost from tragic violence. I envisioned all those who served in the military to fight for a country who constantly rejected them. I envisioned all those who were horribly strung up in nooses on trees - and the trees bear witness to those tragedies,” said Jones.

Morrow’s pieces express something that perhaps can’t be put into a photograph, one which an artist needs a different sort of lens to produce the desired effect. Her distinctive medium brings a sculptural element to the exhibition and offers her unique take on the way these protests inspired her work.

The opening tonight will feature a poetry recital featuring some wonderful poets including Siaarra Freeman, Krystal Sienna and Kevin Latimer. 
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