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The Story Behind One Of The Most Powerful Images Of the Resistance 

Artist Watson Mere didn’t speak until he was 4 years old — so art became his voice by Tod Perry

August 24, 2017
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After the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that claimed the life of anti-racist protester Heather Heyer, President Donald Trump was hesitant to denounce white supremacists. He insisted there were bad people on “both sides,” equating racists with those who took a stand against bigotry. 

To express his outrage over Trump’s comments, Twitter user RjayNiice tweeted a piece of artwork titled “My Brother’s Keeper” that shows Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. putting his hand over Trump’s mouth as he tweets. “This deserves endless retweets but I doubt it will,” he captioned the photo. In under a week, the tweet had claimed over 240,000 likes. 

The powerful and timely image of King silencing Trump sent many on a quest to find out who came up with it: Watson Mere. The American-born artist of Haitian descent living in Philadelphia created “My Brother’s Keeper” right before the Women’s March — and Martin Luther King Day — in January.

Mere’s painting is just one of many political images in his vast body of work. He found his artistic voice early in life, in part because he didn’t speak until he was 4 years old. So from the age of 2, he says art was his only means of communication. We spoke with Mere about his creative process, King, dealing with Trump supporters, and where he thinks all of this unrest will take us next. He also shared a few more of his provocative artworks, which you can explore in the slideshow above.

In the viral tweet, it appears as though someone is holding a print of “My Brother’s Keeper” at a protest. Do you know where the photo was taken?

Yes, the image was captured at one of the Women’s Marches on January 21, 2017, in San Jose, California.

When did you create “My Brother’s Keeper”? What was the inspiration?

I first created “My Brother’s Keeper” early in the month of January 2017 when I realized that MLK Day would be four days before the Trump inauguration. It was mostly inspired by the polarity of the messages from the two men. It was somewhat of a dreams-versus-nightmares situation where you had Dr. King’s dream of equality and peace amongst races. And, on the other hand, you had a message based on reversing things to a pre-Civil Rights era of separation and overt oppression coming from Trump. Most of his sentiments were expressed at his rallies, but Twitter was also catalyst for getting his message across.

What do you think Dr. King would have to say about Trump if he was around today?

He would not approve. I think what Trump has helped to stir up is peeling back the progress that this country has made in the years since Dr. King’s assassination. There were still major issues involving race prior to Trump, but I believe that Dr. King would have encouraged him to inspire the nation to continue its growth towards eliminating these problems. Trump is digging deeper into a part-two version of the country’s dark history against minorities.

We must hold on to this energy of unity and open-mindedness once the dust finally does settle.

Your painting has received a lot of attention. What kind of feedback have you gotten? 

It has definitely been mostly positive. I’ve seen all types of feedback ranging from people’s disapproval of the way the way Trump utilizes Twitter to people wishing we had someone with the leadership and mindset of a Dr. King guiding the country. The feedback, for the most part, has shown me there are a lot of people who relate to the words and vision of King in this turbulent climate.

Has there been any backlash from Trump supporters?

They have voiced their negative opinions towards the piece, but that’s just something you really can’t avoid.

You’re an artist who creates powerful images of the African Diaspora. When the dust settles on the racial chaos inspired by Trump, do you think black America will be in a better or worse position?

As crazy as it may sound, I think that we will be in a better place because these times have shown us that the evil that black people have been talking about isn’t a myth. It’s actually a very real thing, and as a result, black people have gained allies from a multitude of different groups. This gives us a greater platform to get our voice out and help others better understand our views from the perspective of the oppressed. I believe this improved understanding will ultimately start the discussions that will be the impetus for change.

I also think that the negativity of this administration has forced people to come out of the “boxes” of their respected groups and listen to the issues and problems of other communities they’ve never considered. The many protests that have gone on around the nation and the world show a multitude of different types people coming together in harmony for one cause — which is the embodiment of Dr. King’s dream. So I do feel like there is light at the end of this dark period; however, we must hold on to this energy of unity and open-mindedness once the dust finally does settle.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. See more of Mere’s work and purchase prints at The Artwork of Watson Mere.

 

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The Story Behind One Of The Most Powerful Images Of the Resistance  Artist Watson Mere didn’t speak until he was 4 years old — so art became his voice