Artist Kadir Nelson’s Inspiration Behind “Say Their Names”

Artist Kadir Nelson is behind some of the defining images of these times, including the New Yorker’s June cover and Rolling Stone’s July cover. He joins Christiane to explain his inspiration and reflect on racial justice in the U.S.

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: And I just would like you to walk me through this incredibly obvious, but also very complex and full piece of art there.

KADIR NELSON, ARTIST: Well, the painting “Say Their Names” is a — it’s a memorial of sorts, and a history lesson of — about the history of African-American — of violence against African-Americans, of discriminations, descending from the beginnings in slavery, in transatlantic slavery, the relationship between Africans and Europeans and all their descendants. And all of it was really ignited by the murder of George Floyd. So, George Floyd is front and center. And within the shadow of his body is this long history of this whole story, beginning with the African-American or African slaves, slave people at the bottom of the image. And we roll all the way through, and you see — a man — his name is Gordon — on the bottom right. He’s very much tortured. You see his very scarred back. And it rolls all the way through the overseer on the horseback, the police on the paddy wagon, all the way up to Rodney King. And then, of course, you see all the victims who have — we have become very familiar with as of late at the very top of the image. And it’s a very dark portrait. There are a number of other things in there as well, but it’s a very dark portrait, and it is given, I think, a bit more soul and spirit and reverence by the blue periwinkle flowers that are sprinkled throughout the composition. And I learned from my wife that the burials of enslaved people, enslaved African-American people, were marked by this flower. So that is pretty much the gist of what this painting is about.

About This Episode EXPAND

Christine Todd Whitman, former governor of New Jersey, discusses the climate crisis and the upcoming presidential election. Faiz Shakir and Mark McKinnon analyze interesting trends from last night’s Democratic primaries. Columbia economist Glenn Hubbard explains what a successful economic recovery must look like. Artist Kadir Nelson explains the inspiration behind his pieces.