The irony has always troubled Rafi Rivero. “People love Black athletes,” he said. “But they don’t love black people.”
In July 2013, it reverberated for Rivero, a lifelong sports fan, when George Zimmerman was acquitted in the assassination of black teenager Trayvon Martin, the same weekend Rivero made a film about the murder of Oscar Grant in 2009 Saw “Fruitvale Station”. Black was also there.
“I cried that weekend several times, and I felt really powerless,” Rivero told Santa Fe last month during a videoconferencing interview. “I was asking myself, what can I do?”
A filmmaker with a background in design, Rivero infused his spirit into a piece of art, which eventually became part of a series that has influenced observers across the country. Rivero used Adobe Illustrator to create an image of a black and yellow basketball jersey with “unarmed” on the front and “Martin 17” on the back. Tryvon Martin was 17 years old and when he was shot, and while reading about his death, Rivero saw a picture of Martin in a black and yellow football jersey.
The 43-year-old Grimo, Rivero, continued to be reminiscent of other unarmed black victims in the years following Zimmerman’s decision. His portrayal of the digital jersey was increased to include Eric Garner, who was killed by a New York City police officer in July 2014 using an illegal chokehold in Staten Island. Three weeks later, a Ferguson, Mo., police officer killed Michael Brown. By then Rivero had developed a deliberate design system for the project: each jersey bears the colors of the victim’s local sports team with a jersey number that corresponds to the time of the person’s death. Stars, if present, represent how many times a person was shot.
“It seems that people are trying to overcome these murders with the logic of ‘bad apples’, but it keeps happening.” Rivero said that there is a line in these murders. “And it felt empowering to say something like this.”
Rivero’s path kept the victims’ names distinct from other protests by placing them within the symbol of America’s favorite past. “My father always used to say that sports are democratic,” Rivero said. “The only arena where a black person and a white person could compete on the same playground.”
The game is also a nostalgic symbol of youthful innocence. “One of the best moments was always when you got your jersey, your number. I just want to wear it all the time, ”he said. “Jerseys were sacred things to me.”
Over the next few years “Unarmed” remained an erratic social media project, as Rivero ceased corporate and media design work while battling the emotional pain of starting new installments.
Again George floyd He was killed by the Minneapolis Police in May 2020. Rivero explained through tears that for more than a week he could not bring himself to watch the video of the murder and at first, there was no interest in making another jersey. But when Black Lives Matter protests gained momentum throughout New York and the country, he resolved to design another. “My life changed when I designed George floyd jersey, ”Said Rivero.
A friend of Rivero’s, who owns a printing company, called him in the morning after sharing Floyd’s design on Instagram. He suggested that they make large vinyl prints of Rivero’s jersey designs to post. “Less than a week later, they were across from the Barclays Center,” Rivero said.
The downtown Brooklyn arena had become a hub for daily Black Lives Matter protests and Rivero’s art hung in the background, with dark irony, including nearby sports business Modell’s, sneaker boutique Smith, and Crunch Fitness .
Steven Heller, co-chair of the MFA Design Department at the School of Visual Arts, was so struck by the use of commercial branding to convey a commercial social message that he interviewed Rivero for it DesignObserver, A website covering design and culture. “Rafi Rivero is quoting popular culture in a way that is clear and nuanced,” Heller said in an email interview with The New York Times. “The viewer is immediately unaware of the message, which allows for an echo instead of a head injury – although it does.”
Although the game has not traditionally made its way into the establishment of the fine arts, the use of the game as a game for the forms of protest has forced the art world to pay attention. The 2019 Whitney Biennial featured several pieces that referred to the game, most notably, Kota Ageva’s “National Anthem”, an animated video showing NFL players protesting police violence against unarmed black people as “Star -Spangled Banner “Kneeling”.
“We like the work of art about protest that is not bombastic,” said Jane Panetta, co-curator of the museum’s Hallmark survey. “Quiet, tactile, explanatory.” Colin Kaepernick’s knee-jerk protest really captured the country, and the more time passed, the more it began to resonate. Today it is even more powerful. “
With “unarmed” as its professional focus, and supported by grants from V-Day Foundation, Rivero bought a used car, filled it with camera equipment, and scheduled New York last fall to capture what was happening in the US. Rivero visited Louisville, Kyos, Kenosha, Wis., Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Denver and spoke to local residents about tragic murders and violence to their communities. He recorded the trip and used the footage to make short films, “Unarmed“It debuted as part of YouTubeBlack renaissance, “A black history month exclusively organized by Obamas that has been viewed more than 3.5 million times. He showcased the jersey Leon gallery , Last winter
Although Rivero left his Brooklyn apartment before embarking on a cross-country trip and has not returned since, he is expected to return later this month. He has found another set of vinyl prints that he has prepared for hanging, and after enough people ask him about the wearable jersey, he is in the final production of a Trayvon Martin edition. If Martin’s family members approved, he could start selling the jersey, using the proceeds to support the families of the victims and to donate to anticarism organizations.
“When you go to a ballgame in Denver, there won’t be someone who wants to wear Eliza McClain’s jersey, instead of a Jamal Murray?” I would love to see that, ”said Rivero.