When Set Free Richardson looks at protest photos from the 1960s, he can’t help but notice how similar they are to the ones taken in 2020.
The creative director of Compound, a South Bronx-based creative agency and gallery, is a big believer in photographs as visual representations of facts. So when Black Lives Matter protests emerged as a result of George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis Police, Richardson was able to see how much recurring visuals like murals and protest signs have played a role in images captured across the country.
“I was like, ‘Wow, I don’t think anybody ever really talked about the art that’s being done during all these protests,’” he said.
Richardson was already hard at work creating a digital home for Compound after the pandemic shut the physical space down. After posting a few photos of the gallery on social media, Kyle Bañuelos, co-founder and CEO of dotdotdash, reached out offering to team up on a virtual project.
The result of that offer is The Art of Protest, a free interactive virtual gallery experience featuring the work of Black and Latino photographers who have covered recent protests.
The event—sponsored by Jägermeister and its Save the Night initiative to support artists and nightlife workers during the pandemic—takes place on Compound’s website at 7 p.m. ET on Friday, July 17, and features live performances and discussions in addition to the work on display.
A limited amount of prints from each photographer featured will be on sale after the show. A portion of those proceeds will be donated to the Black Artist Fund, an initiative that directly funds Black artists.
When it comes to the digital aspects of the show, dotdotdash wanted to “elevate the experience of a virtual event beyond just talking heads,” Bañuelos said, and “drive that same sense of connection” people experience in real life.
“As you navigate the virtual Compound gallery, you actually can see these representations of other people navigating in real time,” he said. “It’s sort of this light shader that you can see that’s moving about the space so you can sense other people there. And you’re partaking in viewing alongside others from across the world.”
Virtual events have become the norm during the pandemic, but Richardson believes The Art of Protest differs from others because “the most important thing right now is to help magnify the message of social injustice, racism [and] police brutality.”
“To me, it’s not a celebration of showing these images, it’s more of a teaching and letting people really see some of these images and what’s really happening out in the protests,” Richardson said.
Richardson hopes The Art of Protest allows non-Black people to learn from the photography exhibited and “understand that this is nothing new.” Looking ahead to how agencies and corporations in general should continue elevating Black stories and voices, his advice to them is to do something that makes a difference.
“We understand the marketplace and we understand what’s in the market,” he said. “I think it is our jobs as creative and agencies to put a message out there of putting humans together to make change.”
Bañuelos added that “now’s not the time for blanket statements” and “sensational posts.” Instead, it’s an opportunity to make valuable change.
“We have the skillsets and the resources as companies within this space to tangibly contribute, and I would encourage other agencies to look at their resources and time and hopefully find a way to contribute beyond posts.”