The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., is adding protest artwork and signage to its permanent collection. Emily Bland, one of the artist-protesters, said the Smithsonian’s decision to conserve Ferguson protest art could cement the protests’ importance in the public eye.
“It was really exciting because I think it gave everything that we’re been working toward a little bit more legitimacy,” said Emily Bland, 26.
Bland's work is a banner that featured prominently in the Ferguson October protests. The sign was black with white lettering that read “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes a duty.” The dialogue between the Smithsonian and people involved with protests began weeks ago. Darian Wigfall was put in touch with a Smithsonian representative through his friend Cheeraz Gormon. Wigfall, who produced two signs to be included in the Smithsonian’s collection, traded multiple emails with a Smithsonian representative before receiving a formal acquisition letter from the institution. Wigfall said his reaction to the letter was instant.
“I was just like, ‘Yes! Finally,'” said Wigfall. One sign acquired by the Smithsonian reads “Racist injustice hurts everyone. Speak out.”
Both Wigfall and Bland are pleased to have their work included in the Smithsonian. The news surprised Bland.
“I was so surprised, I couldn’t believe it,” said Bland about her reaction to the news. “I told him 'I can’t believe it. This is the Smithsonian. I remember being a little girl and seeing the touring exhibit and thinking these things are so cool!'”
Both Wigfall and Bland stressed the importance of this step for people who participated in the protests since the August shooting death of Michael Brown by former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Wigfall said this moment highlights the work of many ordinary people voicing their opinions. Wigfall’s sign took roughly 10 minutes to make with house-hold items while Bland’s piece was painted on a drop cloth.
Wigfall said the signs helped protesters tell a narrative when it was impossible for everyone to access news outlets.
“The role those signs and banners played was that all of us couldn’t speak to a news outlet, but for all us to all have signs that said something similar kind of reiterated the message over and over,” said Wigfall.
More than five other protesters will have work included in the Smithsonian Institution.