It’s been another difficult week in the United States, to say the least. Protests rage across the country as activists continue to fight for racial justice and an end to police brutality following the merciless shooting of Jacob Blake, yet another unarmed Black man. It may be hard to find a silver lining in the turmoil and uprisings that have ensued, but one this is for sure: a new generation of activists has been born.
Sadie Pickering is a 16-year-old Greenpoint resident, and she may not have thought of herself as an activist, but her work memorializing monumental Black lives is certainly inspiring discourse. On Greenpoint Glass‘ mirrored facade, Sadie has left two indelible marks in her murals honoring the late U.S. Representative John Lewis and Breonna Taylor, a victim of police brutality. In this Thursday Spotlight, the talented teenager discusses how she’s used the quarantine period to make a difference and how she hopes the intersection of activism and the arts continue to fuel her future.
Greenpointers: Let’s start with Greenpoint Glass: what is your relation to the store and how did you get in touch with them to craft your murals?
Sadie Pickering: So the Greenpoint Glass murals have been a big part of the neighborhood for a while, before I ever got involved with them. My family recently became close friends with the people who live in the apartment, as we live just down the block. Then, when the BLM protests first started, I created a painting of George Floyd, and when I shared this painting with the Greenpoint Glass owners, they offered up their famous window. I had never done anything as large but took on the challenge to spread awareness for Breonna Taylor’s story. She was my first mural ever.
What was your artistic life like in school before quarantine began, and how did you keep yourself busy, artistically, at home before the murals started?
I took an advanced art class in school last year, so I was creating art regularly before quarantine, though it very rarely had any real meaning or message. When quarantine started, I had more time to focus on my assignments for the class and made more art than I have in a while. I do get discouraged easily, so the class provided a lot of motivation to create. However, art has always been a hobby, and even before high school, I did a lot of my own drawing, though I never really shared it.
Speaking of school, are you going back to in-person learning this academic year? If so or if not, how does it make you feel?
Remote learning at my high school is an option, but I’m making the choice to go back with the hybrid model. I’ll be going into the building once a week, as well as every third Monday. I’m not as nervous about the safety and sanitation of the actual school building as I am about the safety of the subway, which is how I commute. All in all, I’m a little nervous to see how the virus will be handled, but I’m also eager for the year to start — it’s been such a strange summer!
Your murals are such a beautiful and vital way of honoring Breonna and John’s immense legacies. What have been some of the reactions you’ve received to creating them?
First of all, thank you! The majority of reactions I’ve received have been supportive, loving, and enthusiastic. This has been super empowering, especially since the murals were very challenging to create. They’re also the way I’ve been expressing myself in the midst of the movement, and these positive reactions have helped strengthen my confidence in what I’m fighting for. However, of course there have also been negative responses, the worst of which was the defacement of the mural. Others have been negative comments on social media or physical reactions to seeing the murals.
That defacing of the John Lewis tribute was horrific. It’s a reminder that the progressive, activist bubble in Greenpoint can still be full of hate. You worked swiftly to revitalize that work — what was that like for you?
I was initially very upset about the defacement, because I could tell by the way it had happened that it took a lot of effort — and a lot of hate. However, I had to remember that this was, in a way, what John Lewis himself went through in the ’60s. He endured physical and emotional violence, but he would always get back up with dignity. It was a hard lesson to learn, but revitalizing the mural showed me a microscopic fraction of John Lewis’ struggle, and I think the second version of the mural was even better because of this.
You have an extraordinary gift for a 16-year-old. Are you feeling called by this work? Do you feel the intersections of art and activism is something you’d like to continue with in your life and eventual career?
Again, thank you! This type of work is definitely more important, and more rewarding, than the art I’m used to making. I think it’s my responsibility as an artist, and as a privileged white person, to take advantage of the opportunities I’m presented with in order to fight for what is right. I’ve never considered myself an activist, and I’ve never considered art to be anything more than a hobby, let alone a possible career path. However, I think I’d like to see where this work takes me, and for the present, continue to contribute to the movement through art.
Thanks for sharing. Anything else you’d like to add?
I guess I want to reach out to any other hesitant artists that are reading this. These murals are something I never would have imagined myself making. In the past, I’ve greatly doubted my own abilities, and even now, there is hate from others that I have to face. But there is so much more support out there than I thought, and it overpowers all the hate and doubt — including my own. So to you I say take chances, accept challenges, and believe in yourself! You are capable of more than you think.