The Social Justice Artist Behind The Beautiful Portraits You See On IG

shirien damra

When Shirien Damra first heard about the death of Ahmaud Arbery, she started to think about softness. The 33-year-old freelance designer was horrified to hear about the young black man in Georgia who was gunned down while out for a run in broad daylight. She couldn’t bring herself to watch the video of the encounter, which quickly circulated online, and incited protests and finally an arrest.

But she did want to create something—a gesture of solidarity with black communities in their time of grieving, an art piece to raise awareness about what had happened, a tribute to combat the racist stereotypes that are often used to justify the killing of black men.

“I was afraid that people would only see the video and remember his soul being taken away from him,” Damra told ELLE.com over the phone from her home in Chicago.

So she set out to make something soft, something with humanity that would celebrate his life. She played around with different color palettes to see what kind of emotions they evoked. In the end, she chose bright colors and florals for her portrait of Arbery, attributes that she says are rarely seen in depictions of black men. “There’s this demonization that exists,” she says.

“I wanted to challenge that.”

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Yesterday, in yet another act of anti-black police violence causing mass outrage, George Floyd yelled “I can’t breathe” and pleaded for his life as a white Minneapolis police officer violently pinned him down with his knee on his neck. George died after. He was murdered in broad daylight. His death is reminiscent of the death of Eric Garner. Even with a crowd yelling at him to stop and while folks filmed the murder, the cop did it anyway, showing the massive injustice, zero accountability and white supremacy embedded in the “criminal justice” system. Heartbroken, angry and disgusted. This must end. Much love and solidarity to Black communities grieving another beautiful life lost. May George Floyd Rest in Power. Text ‘Floyd’ to 55156 to demand the officers be charged with murder. You can also call Mayor Jacob Frey at (612)-673-2100, DA Mike Freeman at (612)-348-5550 and demand justice. #blacklivesmatter #georgefloyd #icantbreathe #justiceforgeorgefloyd

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Every year on May 15th, Palestinians around the world commemorate the Nakba (النكبة‎), Arabic for “catastrophe”, which refers to the ethnic cleansing of indigenous Palestine and the near-total destruction of Palestinian society in 1948. About 530 Palestinian neighborhoods and villages were uprooted and destroyed, and 750,000+ Palestinians, including my own grandparents, were forced out of their homes into refugeehood with no possesions left besides the ones they could quickly grab and carry on their backs. ⠀ My roots come from the lands of Majdal Yaba and Qalunya, two Palestinian villages that were completely wiped out. Til this day, Palestinian refugees inside refugee camps and those of us in exile scattered across the globe await the return to our homeland. The Nakba isn't just a traumatic moment in history, it is still being carried out slowly in what's left of Palestine, 72 years later. And the impact of the Nakba still sends ripples through each generation. As the granddaughter of Palestinians who were violently forced off their lands, I also know the intergenerational trauma of forced displacement is real beyond the camps.⠀ ⠀ Like many Palestinians, when I learned about my family's painful history, it created a deep yearning for justice and it was the catalyst that opened up my eyes to the everyday systemic injustices faced by other marginalized communities. For those of us in diaspora, we have seen our grandparents struggle with the trauma they have experienced firsthand from the Nakba, and that is why we will carry on the dream of returning to a free Palestine. One thing is for certain and that is we will return and build a beautiful vision of a just society. We will continue to fight for the dream when our catastrophe turns into our salvation.⠀ ⠀ #NakbaDay #Nakba72 #Nakba #Palestine #FreePalestine⠀

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In the past 24 hours, it’s come to media attention that Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT, was killed by police. At almost the exact same age, both #AhmaudArbery and Breonna were killed by senseless anti-black violence within a few weeks span. In the middle of the night on March 13 in Louisville, KY, two police officers and one sergeant entered the wrong home without knocking or announcing themselves. They claim they were executing a search warrant for a suspected drug dealer, but this person did not live at Breonna’s address and had actually already been arrested. Breonna’s boyfriend fired a shot when he thought people were trying to break in. The police then fired 20 shots, 8 of which hit and killed Breonna. This is angering and heartbreaking. Breonna selflessly saved many lives as an EMT, only to have hers taken away so senselessly by police violence. May Breonna get justice somehow. Rest in Power, queen. Say her name. #JusticeforBreonna #JusticeforBre #BreonnaTaylor #blacklivesmatter #blm #justiceforbreonnataylor #firstresponders

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Sebastiane Ebatamehi

I am a Writer and Online Publicist, destined to give a voice to the silent echoes and hush whispers that are seldom heard

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