Portraitist Oree Originol Honors People of Color Killed by Law Enforcement

Natasha McKenna. Eric Garner. Alan Blueford. Corey Kanosh. Errol Chang. Aiyana Jones. Troy Davis.

The Oakland street artist who goes by Oree Originol never wants us to forget their names.

"I feel it is my responsibility as an artist to make these names popular," says the 32-year-old Chicano artist, who has created dozens of portraits of people of color killed by law enforcement as part of his ongoing project, Justice for Our Lives.

The simple but striking black and white digital drawings have been presented at Bay Area locations like Sole Space in Oakland and San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. They've helped to fuel street protests and vigils around the world inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.

Oree Originol, who hails originally from Los Angeles and moved to Oakland in 2009, makes every portrait available for download at no cost, and uses social media to get new work out. He also leads talks and workshops at schools and community centers, which almost always culminate with participants wheat pasting or screen printing the portraits. At a recent Exploratorium After Dark Thursday, the artist encouraged participants to go home and research the stories behind the portraits they worked with.

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The self-taught artist found inspiration for his project when, in 2014, he attended the annual vigil at Fruitvale BART station for Oscar Grant, the 22-year-old African-American man fatally shot by BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle on Jan. 1, 2009. He was moved not only by Grant's story but by the Bay Area's activist spirit. When he returned home later that night, he decided to make his first portrait of Grant.

Since then, Oree Originol has created 56 portraits. When researching his subjects, he often speaks with their family members. The artist recognizes he's honored just a fraction of the men and women who have been killed by law enforcement in recent years, and says he will continue to make the portraits until the violence stops.

Text by Kelly Whalen; Video by Jessica Jones

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