On May 25, Minneapolis resident George Floyd died under the knee of a police officer pressing his prone body into the street, and a little over a week later, protests are still roiling across the country with a fervor that feels simultaneously sorrowful, incensed and filled with possibility. Creatives in Floyd’s community have been paying tribute to him with murals and poetry readings and other performances, and artist Jammie Holmes similarly responded to Floyd’s killing with a project that unfurled over this past weekend. With the assistance of Detroit’s Library Street Collective gallery, Dallas-based artist Holmes commissioned five airplanes with banners bearing Floyd’s final words to fly over five major American cities between 11:30 a.m. and 9 p.m. on Saturday, May 30.
A plane flew over Detroit bearing a banner that said “PLEASE I CAN’T BREATHE.” Citizens of Los Angeles looked up to see another plane with a banner attached that said “MY STOMACH HURTS.” Dallas: “MY NECK HURTS.” Miami: “EVERYTHING HURTS.” New York City: “THEY’RE GOING TO KILL ME.” The presence of George Floyd’s final words mounted in the sky act as something like a spiritual refutation to the intimidation tactics that have recently been executed by United States military helicopters; Floyd’s voice is more powerful than the country’s attempts to drown out thousands of people screaming his name. Holmes told the New York Times that in the area where he lives, plane banners are largely used to advertise golf tournaments. “Or you’ll see something like, ‘Will You Marry Me?,” Holmes said. “It’s always controlled by the rich.”
Holmes, whose paintings offer intimate glimpses of black life in the American south, spoke about the work in a statement via his website. The artist emphasized the importance of momentum when it comes to implementing lasting improvements to society. “The use of sky media to recount Floyd’s final words presents a contrast to the noise of digital media,” Holmes said. “I hope that people will be reminded of the power we can have to be heard and that coming together behind a unified message is key for real change.”