Artist Jammie Holmes’ sky banners land at Dallas Contemporary as the virtual exhibition “EVERYTHING HURTS.”
As protests erupted across the country days after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, planes pulling banners inscribed with Floyd’s last words flew over Detroit, Miami, Dallas, Los Angeles and New York City. Created by Dallas-based artist Jammie Holmes, the phrases — held in the sky by a nearly invisible thread on May 30 — spelled out “They’re Going to Kill Me,” “Please I Can’t Breathe,” “My Stomach Hurts,” “My Neck Hurts” and “Everything Hurts” in white and red lettering.
The aerial installation will be expanded upon with a new virtual exhibition launching June 16 at Dallas Contemporary. The online iteration — titled “EVERYTHING HURTS.” — will feature documentation of the day-long public art presentation and will be accompanied by remote panels and “resources to inspire tangible actions against systemic racism.”
Holmes, known for his work as a figurative painter, said in a statement that the original demonstration, titled “They’re Going to Kill Me,” was an “act of social conscience and protest meant to bring people together in their shared incense at the inhumane treatment of American citizens.” The virtual version of the project moves forward with the support of Detroit-based gallery Library Street Collective, which has represented Holmes since April and helped the artist get the original banners off the ground.
The Louisiana-born artist’s use of sky media aimed to upend its typical use, which he described as being reserved for the privileged to announce marriage proposals, sporting events and commercial promotions. “It is rarely used for political or social purposes — to exercise free speech — because it is an outlet unavailable to the poor and marginalized,” 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.”
The banners that flew May 30 were displayed across skylines from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., with each location seeing a different phrase. In New York City, “They’re Going to Kill Me” streamed over the Hudson River, while “My Stomach Hurts” enveloped the area surrounding Angelino Heights in Los Angeles. The words “connected these cities in a national protest of police brutality against African Americans,” read a statement from Library Street Collective.
Holmes shared that he was “charged by the response the work has received, but the emotions surrounding it are complicated.”
“It’s amazing to see the positive action from across the country supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement and the pursuit of truth for so many who have been hurt and killed by racial injustice,” he continued. “I’m hopeful for real change but saddened that all this was necessary to even begin to consider our basic rights. My feelings are the same as millions of people in this country — hopeful but still fearful waiting for the federal government to do something.”
The self-taught artist grew up in Thibodaux, Louisiana, an area near the Mississippi River steeped in the “social and economic consequences of America’s dark past.” It was here where the Thibodaux Massacre of 1887 occurred, which resulted in the deaths of 57 African-American farmworkers who were on strike when they were killed by white vigilantes.
Holmes’ figurative work focuses on the daily life of Black families in the Deep South, bringing to canvas “simple moments of togetherness and joy” through portraiture, text, symbols and objects. Pieces posted on the artist’s Instagram page provide further insight into his process. A caption accompanying the painting “Box Fan Heroes,” for example, identifies the work as “one of the most important pieces” about Holmes’ childhood.
“Through a box fan in the window of our shotgun house, I saw everything I wanted to be,” he wrote. “I saw family members with neighborhood friends, heard the music and slang I grew to love and use myself. That was my entertainment. All my heroes were my older cousins who lived across the street from me.”
The transparent banners featured in “They’re Going to Kill Me” speak directly to police brutality — something that the artist has faced in his own life, according to a statement from Library Street Collective.
“Our mothers are burying us way too early,” Holmes said. “My fiancée shouldn’t worry every time I’m headed out of the house on my own. ‘Yes, I carry a pistol, Mr. Officer. I carry it to protect myself from you by any means necessary. At some point, you will realize you can’t kill us all.’”
Here are images from Jammie Holmes’ installation “They’re Going to Kill Me.”
Top Image: "They’re Going to Kill Me" (Miami), 2020. Photo courtesy of Jammie Holmes and Library Street Collective. Photo by Andre De Aguilar.