Brenda Thompson, Peggy Sivert and Tatum Hawkins of SoLA Contemporary stand amid an installation of protest signs. <span class="copyright">(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)</span>
Brenda Thompson, Peggy Sivert and Tatum Hawkins of SoLA Contemporary stand amid an installation of protest signs. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Black Lives Matter protests continue around the country, making familiar the myriad signs that people hold up: “Justice for George Floyd.” “No Justice, No Peace.” “8:46,” the last a reference to the amount of time a police officer held a knee to Floyd’s neck in Minneapolis.

Peggy Sivert and Tatum Hawkins, who run SoLA Contemporary, see art in these simple, yet direct, missives. So they have gathered dozens of protest signs and installed them in their storefront gallery space in a way that feels as if you have stumbled into a demonstration that’s been frozen in space and in time.

Suspended from the ceiling are bright pieces of poster board and scraps of cardboard emblazoned with slogans such as “Defund the Police,” “All Black Lives Matter”

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As thousands of Americans lend their voices to protests, artists are letting their brushes speak of racial reckoning.

They’re coloring streets with the words Black Lives Matter. They’re spray-painting walls with memorial images in rainbow hues. They’re illustrating fists, flowers and faces and sharing them on Instagram. They’re acting on an urge to create, spurred by the pain of George Floyd’s death and the global pandemic.

Although the term that many use for this kind of work, artivism, feels new, the idea that artists also serve as activists and leaders of cultural change has a deep-rooted history.

“Artists have always been at the lead of protest, resistance and hope in Black communities and other marginalized communities across the country,” says Aaron Bryant, the curator of photography and visual culture at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

As a collective, artists illustrate and impact history. As individuals, they

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