Born out of Pain: St. Louis artists respond to Ferguson

I’ve bounced around the country in the last year or so, from San Francisco to New York, but in the spring I decided to come to St. Louis to finish my book of short stories, “Delusions of Grandeur,” since many of the tales take place in the haunted old river city.

It turns out I couldn’t be here at a more interesting time. Protesters have shut down streets and major interstates. Parts of the region have burned. Flights have been diverted from Lambert St. Louis International Airport. Mass “die in” protests have shut down malls and intersections.

In the wake of Michael Brown, the passionate city is a place where anything can happen and where creativity abounds. From the now iconic “Hands up” pose born on the streets of Ferguson, to protesters interrupting the symphony in an elegant protest of song as banners unfurled from the balcony.  St. Louis artist Mallory Nezam started #ChalkUnarmed, drawing chalk outlines of people on public sidewalks or plazas, then adding the name of an unarmed black man who was killed by a police officer, with the date and location of his death. #ChalkUnarmed had spread to other cities around the nation.

Cbabi (pronounced Kuh-bob-bi) Bayoc is a local artist famous for his portraits of black fathers interacting with their children. Cbabi stands for Creative Black Artist Battling Ignorance and Bayoc (which he waited for his wife to discover) stands for Blessed African Youth of Creativity. Cbabi wanted to have a last name that included the attributes of the wife he was going to bear children with because the last name, he felt, should reflect both parents and not just the father.

In 2012 he embarked on a sensational project, “365 Days With Dad,” creating a portrait a day of a father interacting with his child. While the project caught fire over social media, Bayoc wanted to make sure the black community at large was included, and set up temporary studios in local markets to reach his audience.

R.I.P. SON photo courtesy of Cbabi Bayoc.

R.I.P. SON photo courtesy of Cbabi Bayoc.

I was struck by his latest print, R.I.P. SON, which depicts a black father with his two boys, one which has a target on his chest. The prints, which are available for $35, are powerful and heartbreaking.

I’m an optimist, and as such I see the beauty in the response to the Brown tragedy. I see the young emerging leaders in the streets. I see long-ignored issues being addressed. I see art and creativity flourishing. Nationwide, unarmed black men are killed by police with horrifying regularity, but are typically in less passionate cities where the victim is simply mourned over potato salad. It’s the response of St. Louisans that made Mike Brown different, and ignited a national discussion.

A little over a century ago St. Louis was the nation’s 4th largest city. A metropolis mighty enough to launch the first transatlantic flight which bore her name, and to host the first Olympic games in the United States. From the smoldering ashes I see a city awakening, more relevant than she’s been in a century, exporting her culture in hands-up poses, chalk outlines, dialogue, stories, art and cries for social justice.

As the smoke clears I see the passing of the old guard, and the rise of a much more dynamic St. Louis.


Chris Andoe is an author and seasoned activist. After meeting John Aravosis at a Chicago “” protest in 2000, Chris was inspired to organize his own major demonstrations in St. Louis, which drew national attention. Since then, his activism has revolved around LGBT, affordable housing, and mass transit issues. In 2011 Andoe made headlines taking on the amorphous hacker group Anonymous for publishing nude photos of a Bay Area Rapid Transit spokesperson, saying “Puritanical shame-based tactics have no place in the capital of sexual liberation”, and he extensively covered San Francisco's jarring gentrification, from mass evictions to the nudity ban. Andoe was on the ground in Ferguson at the height of the unrest, recording events as they unfolded. Always in the fray, Andoe’s been interviewed by NPR, CBS, and has been quoted from CNN to The St. Louis Post Dispatch.

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6 Responses to “Born out of Pain: St. Louis artists respond to Ferguson”

  1. Kizi says:

    I hope that everything will be resolved smoothly in peace.

  2. 2karmanot says:

    Bravo Chris—–Next to satire art is revolutionary dynamite!

  3. nicho says:

    I just dread to think what black-ops event The Powers That Be will come up with to drive these protests off the front page.

  4. This whole situation is hard to understand.

  5. Indigo says:

    “Passing of the old guard . . .” A few artistic responses is not a trend, it’s part of the story the media have already highjacked into the yet-another-riot folder. I doubt the old guard, as you call it, even bothers to take note.

  6. caphillprof says:

    I only pray that St. Louis will change for the better.

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