Last summer, Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Dallas carried bright yellow umbrellas emblazoned with the names of victims of police violence.
Created by a collective of artists, the Umbrella Project worked with groups like Mothers Against Police Brutality and the Dallas chapter of In Defense of Black Lives to create a local symbol of hope during the protest taking place in the city.
Now, the Umbrella Project is memorializing the effort with an open-air exhibition at Ash Studios.
Umbrella Project founder Teresa Nguyen said she was inspired by the umbrella movements in South Korea and Hong Kong, where demonstrators use umbrellas as a tool of passive resistance and as practical protection against tear gas and rubber bullets.
Nguyen had the idea to give demonstrators in Dallas dozens of yellow umbrellas following a protest on May 30, 2020, when Dallas police fired smoke bombs at a crowd on Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge.
The addition of the names of people killed by police, painted to the tops of the umbrellas, added a new layer.
“It became something more moving and beautiful and powerful,” Nguyen said. “I felt a responsibility, once names were being carried, because it was the name of someone’s loved one. It was someone’s child, someone’s brother, someone’s father. That just meant even more to me.”
The exhibit features more than 100 umbrellas strewn across the outdoor art space. There’s also a Wall of Names, where volunteers sewed together umbrella sleeves for visitors to leave names of their loved ones, and another wall where visitors can bring their protest signs and leave them on display.
“I wanted to remind people to carry on through this exhibit,” she said. “I didn’t want to let down the people who donated towards the project and who had given up their time and also the mothers and the family members who provided these names to us. I didn’t want to let them down.”
Nguyen said she originally kept her role as one of the founders of the project hidden because she didn’t want to center herself in the conversation. She’d received criticism for spearheading a project honoring Black lives as a non-Black, Vietnamese woman.
“I stuck with it because I have had conversations with my Black friends, who are exhausted with what’s happening in the world,” she said. “I thought I was stepping in for a friend who couldn’t be strong. I can be strong for you when you’re scared or you’re tired. Let me fight your fight right now.”
Nguyen decided to speak up after witnessing the rise in violence against Asian Americans across the United States over the past year.
“I have been an ally for the past year and been quiet about it,” she said. “I felt that by speaking up, I am helping my Asian American community. With the recent hate and violence towards Asian Americans, I see also that we need allies. We all need to be on the same page. I mean, it’s no question and we need to all agree that racism is not welcome.”
The Umbrella Project memorial exhibit runs through June 20 at Ash Studios (3203 Ash Lane, Dallas, TX). Check it out Fridays from 5-8 p.m. and Saturdays/Sundays from 4-7 p.m. The exhibit is pay-what-you-can, and donations are accepted at the door.
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