What do all the symbols mean?
By Adam Hernandez
During January and February 2021, we will be featuring special guest bloggers whose artwork is currently on display outside the Ohio History Center in Columbus. Their art is part of a citywide exhibit titled “Deliver Black Dreams.“ Installed in late October, this exhibit uses public art as a launch point for achieving racial equity in Columbus. It features the art that covered windows around the city during protests this past summer. You can read more about the project here and view more artwork here. This month we are excited to share a post from Adam Hernandez.
Whenever I paint pieces similar to the one on display at the Ohio History Connection, people always ask me the same question, “What do all the symbols mean?” If I am being completely honest, my first thought usually is, “Well, did you read the words first?” I have never said that out loud. I’m a pretty friendly person and usually use that question as an opportunity to start a conversation. But it does get me thinking, are they missing the real message? The prominent message in the foreground? The words that say Black Lives Matter?
Maybe that’s not fair for me to think as an artist. A bit harsh for me to assume they skipped this and solely focused on the brightly colored, intricate patterns and symbols. And if they did, maybe that’s my fault. I could have painted the words as clean text on a clean background. The mysterious little modern hieroglyphics are unnecessary. No distractions are needed. Plain and simple. Like the meaning of the words themselves, Black lives matter.
Maybe I shouldn’t have even painted them on the boarded up window of a Panera Bread on Ohio State’s campus in the first place.
Maybe someone shouldn’t have smashed that window.
Maybe people shouldn’t have protested the murders of unarmed Black people at the hands of police officers.
What if everyone just accepted that Black lives matter? What if Black people were respected and treated equally? Maybe then I wouldn’t have to paint the words at all. Maybe then I could answer that question, “ What do all those symbols mean?”
We could exist in that reality, but we don’t. Because of that, many artists found themselves expressing their thoughts, memorializing those who have died, and sometimes just adding pretty pictures to boarded up windows all across America this past summer.
I know I am not going to be the first person to tell you how crazy 2020 was as a year. While Covid was the main source for all the madness, I think that the more dangerous sickness we have to address in our nation is racism. Covid can be beat and we are starting to take steps to ensure that happens. Racism can also be beat, but it often feels like we aren’t willing to take the necessary steps to do so. We have always known racism is there, sometimes lurking, sometimes blatant, but to think that it came to a head in 2020 is wrong. It didn’t come to a head. It popped. And it continues to ooze its ugliness across our nation.
So, “What do all the symbols mean?” The symbols mean that the artist lives in a city with a police force that continues to kill unarmed Black people with no signs of stopping. He lives in a country where people will try to overthrow the government because the hateful man they voted for lost the election and they can’t accept that. What do the symbols mean? They mean that even 60 years after the Civil Rights movement, we are still fighting the same battles. The symbols mean that we need to stop asking questions and start doing work.
Adam Hernandez is a self-taught visual artist originally from the Bronx, New York. He has called Columbus home for the past 12 years. He has exhibited work and painted murals across the US and also internationally in Cape Town, South Africa. He has been featured in multiple publications including Sold Magazine, Delta Sky Magazine and PBS.org. He was named Best Artist in Columbus by Columbus Alive in 2019 and is most known for his street art and hieroglyphic inspired work from The Land of Thunderbirds. You can follow his work on the web: www.ahernandezart.com, or on Instagram: @ahernandezart