PEOPLE’s Voices from the Fight Against Racism will amplify Black perspectives on the push for equality and justice

By People Staff
July 24, 2020 11:00 AM
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Credit: Anthony “MarQueL” Williamson

When people walk through the 79th floor of the 3 World Trade Center, they’ll notice the work of Cristina Martinez on display. Martinez, 33, is a Black and Mexican contemporary artist who draws inspiration for her art from both sides of her heritage and the strong women of her bloodline. Her recent projects include a Black Lives Matter print (over $20,000 of proceeds were donated to the non-profit New Leaders), uplighting visuals for singers Ciara and H.E.R. as well as the 52-foot mural "THE ROOTS," which was inspired by Black and Brown female empowerment, at World Trade Center. This is her story, as told to PEOPLE. 

I’ve always felt an urgency to tell the stories of Black and Brown people, people who have to work harder to have their voices heard.

A lot of my artwork tells the story of pushing through challenges and perseverance. Much of this stems from my own experiences growing up with my Mexican family, and having a 15-year-old mother. We had to push through a lot together. Being a Black woman in this world carries its unique challenges, too. This is who I am, and it has shaped me as a person and an artist.

All Black artists will tell you that they have to work a lot harder to be seen. Growing up, I didn’t have any examples of professional artists who looked like me. There was no blueprint. When you think of museums, you don’t necessarily think of Black women being there first. There’s a clear difference as far as how hard I have to work to have my art in some spaces compared to white artists.

Opportunities are opening up. It’s unfortunate, with the countless, senseless killings of Black and Brown people, how we got to this place, but all I can do is use this platform to tell the most powerful story that I can, while I have people’s attention. To be creating a mural in the World Trade Center, to have the world listening, is really inspiring to me.

I’ve seen a really big change in my audience over the past few months: it’s more diverse, more people are paying attention to my work and trying to understand the stories of Black and Brown people.

When I think about New York, and the World Trade Center specifically, I think about rebirth and regrowth. On top of that, with the state of the world right now, I just merged all of those feelings together in this mural.

Credit: Anthony “MarQueL” Williamson

Each woman in this piece has a different story, a different energy. Their necks stretch out like a flower to show that they’re pushing through challenges. Being up this high in the sky, I was inspired to use a lot of blue, too. It’s cool at night: you look out the building’s windows and it almost feels like daytime, here, because of the blue’s reflection.

The women all carry themselves differently. They have different expressions to show what they’ve been through and what they represent. The whole idea is that we don't want to feel alone in our experiences, we want to feel understood. It’s an energy, a feeling. I thought if I could tell a story of these strong Black and Brown women, there are so many others that will look at the piece and be able to relate.

What I’m most inspired by right now is my audience, just that people are listening. I keep the stories and experiences from people that I’ve met — Black and Brown people, single mothers — with me, and reflect their energy in my work. The world is ready to make changes and hear these stories.

I hope the people whose stories I am telling see my work and feel heard and visible, and for the people that maybe can’t relate, I hope it inspires them to have compassion and empathy for others and be open to change toward racial justice.

The beautiful thing is that Black and Brown artists are working harder and we’re getting there. I’m really inspired by other artists using this moment to be heard on these topics that are so, so important. It’s a sign of real progress.

  • As told to by Morgan Smith

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

• Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.

• ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.

• National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.