Two years ago, in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, Oakland artist Oree Originol began creating posters featuring the faces and names of people killed by police in controversial shootings. The art — done in black-and-white, in a simple and dignified style as if from a graphic novel — featured the likenesses of victims like Alex Nieto, the San Franciscan shot by police in Bernal Heights Park. Originol made his work free to download, so people could use them everywhere, and plaster them wherever they could.
The Alex Nieto poster at 2815 24th St., an early version of Originol's “Justice for Our Lives” series, contains the tagline, “Brown Lives Matter.” Originol has since eliminated the tag, after speaking with members of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I was seeing 'Brown Lives Matter' on Twitter and Facebook, but I spoke with the founders of Black Lives Matter, and I learned from it, and I decided it would be better to exclude any wording and just make it the portraits,” Originol says. “Unfortunately, some people still use the 'Brown Lives Matter' [work], which I've deleted from my accounts, but an online image can live forever. I personally prefer not to put it out anymore.”
Originol's art has been used in protest rallies around the Bay Area. His growing portrait collection mainly features police casualties from the Bay Area, though Trayvon Martin and others are now included. As more people become aware of Originol's work, they're using the portraits at rallies in Chicago, New York, and even cities outside the United States, including Toronto and Paris.
“They're starting,” Original says of his work, “to have a global impact.”
Originol, whose art is also showing in the current YBCA exhibit, “Take This Hammer: Art + Media Activism from the Bay Area,” now gets portrait requests from families of people killed by police. The families know that Originol's art will help keep alive the memories of their loved ones — and, perhaps by extension, keep alive the pursuit of legal action against authorities.
“I've been getting a lot of requests from family members,” says Originol, who's 31. “And I've received requests from people in other countries, but I just haven't had the time to make that happen.” — Jonathan Curiel