About 17,000 years ago, in the caves of Lascaux, France, ancestors drew on the walls caves, horses, deer, bison, aurochs and felines. They wanted to convey to other humans a political reality crucial to their survival: they shared their environment with other beings who looked and behaved differently from them.
These early artisans drew these creatures over and over again, possibly fascinated by their shapes and powers, but also believing that whatever happened to animals would almost certainly be a harbinger of what would happen to humans. The presence of bison and deer, their physical form and number, their massive migrations would have indicated the appearance of plagues or cataclysmic weather systems. Containing some 15,000 Upper Paleolithic paintings and engravings, the caves in southwestern France were not simply an exhibition space for local talent. They were essentially a public place where a community shared critical knowledge.
These understated portraits and narratives aren’t much different from our contemporary forums: the street art adorning storefronts in New York City. They tell us about our shared political realities, about the people we coexist with in social space, and how our histories and destinies are linked. If you walk the streets of SoHo, the alleys of the Lower East Side, and the busy avenues of Brooklyn like I have been doing for the past few weeks, you will see these symbols and signs and you might wonder what they mean. . What has become evident to me is that in the millennia that have passed between these cave paintings and the murder of George Floyd, the messages we share, as well as the socio-political circumstances that drive them, have become more complex.