“Art has worked hand in hand with social justice movements for forever,” said Chris Carnabuci, the artist and sculptor behind the busts of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and John Lewis currently on exhibition in New York City’s Union Square.
On their pedestals, the busts of Floyd, Taylor, and Lewis each stand 6 feet tall and have captivated countless visitors sparking conversations surrounding social justice.
“It’s almost like a memorial, people are laying flowers, people are lighting candles, I get chills,” said Lindsay Eshelman, co-founder of Confront Art.
In the days following the murder of George Floyd, Carnabuci and his wife were watching the heart-wrenching news coverage of Floyd’s final moments and the massive protests that followed.
Carnabuci says his wife suggested he use his artistry to add to the growing social justice conversation.
“She at one point turned to me and said, ‘You need to do a sculpture of George Floyd,’ and I thought, ‘It makes sense not for any commercial reason but to capture this moment,’” he said.
Carnabuci created a small model of a Floyd sculpture and shared it with a friend who brought it before Eshelman of Confront Art.
Confront Art lends its platform to artists focusing on social justice and diversity. Eshelman coincidentally was meeting with Terrence Floyd, George Floyd’s brother when she received the sculpture model. She showed it to Terrence Floyd and noticed he became teary-eyed and told her, “I have never seen my brother’s rendering like this.”
Eshelman asked for Terrence’s blessing to use the sculpture to help raise awareness on social justice and the WeAreFloyd nonprofit created in George Floyd’s honor.
Terrence replied, “Not only do I trust you with this statue, I want you to make it as big as you possibly can,” Eshelman said.
Carnabuci and Eshelman connected, and soon afterward the artist created full-sized busts of Floyd, Taylor, and Lewis.
“All of these faces are different,” Eshelman explained of the impact the pieces are intended to create.
“Police brutality, injustice, and moving the conversation forward and we always say any of them can be interchangeable with a number of other people. We could put Eric Garner in there or Sandra Bland in there, these are just the faces that stick with us as a society so that’s why they were used,” said Eshelman.
While the busts have been met with widespread praise, not everyone was thrilled to see them, as the Floyd bust was vandalized twice since it debuted on Juneteenth of this year in Brooklyn, New York, and again two days after it was unveiled at Union Square.
Upon learning of the vandalism, Eshelman rushed to Union Square to clean off the splashes of paint on the busts, but to her surprise, supporters of the statues beat her there.
“Before I could even get out of the subway, people were cleaning it. Tourists were so offended, people walking by were so offended, people are protecting these and coming from afar to see them. Here we are having a vandalism moment which could have been a complete destruction of our day, but it was more of a community rally,” she said.
“On one hand it was a great show of unity and community, and on the other hand there’s still a lot of dissension out there and we have a long way to go,” said Carnabuci on the vandalism.
The busts are a mobile unit and will go on the road as part of a college tour after spending about a month in Union Square. While a touring schedule has not been established at the time of this report, Eshelman says they want to use the statues to educate and inspire students on issues surrounding social justice.
“Our job is to create the stage where you can walk past and start a conversation, disagree with the art, disagree to the society that brought us to this place, and have this open dialogue,” said Eshelman.
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