Artist Titi de Baccarat as he appears in a projection that will be displayed Friday night in Monument Square in Portland. Still from video projection; cinematography and visual effects by Geoffrey Leighton, courtesy of LumenARRT!

Justice. Equality. Solidarity.

Those are some of the themes artist Titi de Baccarat had in mind when he organized The Kneeling Art Photography project. He enlisted 10 Maine photographers to create portraits of dozens of Mainers taking a knee. The project explores the meaning and evolution of the gesture through the images and words, especially in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd and the conviction of his killer.

The yearlong project captures images of people united to end racism. The photographs represent a diverse gathering of Mainers from many communities – white people, people of color, students, activists, immigrants, business owners, retirees, workers, LGBTQ people and many others. In addition to taking a knee and having their photo taken, they have also written statements about what the gesture means to them relative to the larger march for equality for all.

The photographers are diverse, as well. “White, Black, immigrant, men, women, professional or someone just starting out,” said de Baccarat, the project’s director. “The important thing was we learned to walk together as a team. We are all talking about social justice together, and we speak and walk as a team, as one, in solidarity.”

Cayce Anne Parker on the waterfront in Portland. Photo by Amy Bellezza, courtesy of Kneeling Art Project

The portraits – more than 80 in all – will be on view in Portland beginning in June and travel to Waterville and Orono later. But it all begins with a video projection by LumenARRT!, based on the photos, beginning at 8 p.m. Friday among the buildings of Monument Square. LumenARRT! collaborated with the Kneeling Art project for the kickoff event.

There has been no First Friday in Portland during these pandemic days, but the projection might feel a little like an old-fashioned downtown art gathering. Organizers are asking participants to maintain safe distances from one another and observe public health protocols. The Portland-based New Moon Ensemble will perform West African drum music from 8-8:45 p.m., followed by the Ideal Maine Social Aid and Sanctuary Band, playing the blues, from 8:45-9:30 p.m.

LumenARRT! will project on a large cube made by Transformit, on the facade of the Portland Public Library and on the Our Lady of Victories monument. People will see photos from the project “brought to life” from kneeling to rising. LumenARRT! also will project text and use a theater light to create a circle of light so people can kneel for their own photo.

“So our message is really, join us in taking action for racial injustice,” said Anita Clearfield, one of the LumenARRT! collaborators.

The still-evolving exhibition calendar: June 4-25 at Sistered Gallery, 525 Danforth St., Portland; July 2-30, at The Francis, 747 Congress St., Portland; Aug. 6-27 at the Union of Maine Visual Artists Gallery, 516 Congress St., Portland; and Sept. 3-29 at Innovative Media Research and Commercialization Center, University of Maine, Orono. De Baccarat said an arts group in Waterville also is scheduling dates, and he hopes to add other cities and towns.

The photographs and statements are also available online at thekneelingartphotography.com.

De Baccarat, who has two pieces of art on view through May 31 as part of the juried exhibition “Untitled” at the Portland Museum of Art, is a multi-dimensional artist, known most widely for his found-object sculptures. He came to the United States from Gabon, settling in Portland. He makes art about his culture, journey and identity.

He kneels for people who have no voice. In his statement, he wrote, “I kneel down for those who cry out their mother’s name cause they can’t breathe. I kneel down for all past and present victims of COVID-19. I kneel down for all people with disabilities. I have a thought of all the people locked up and all the oppressed people, these children separated from their families and locked in cages in Texas. I kneel down for those who have left home to seek refuge here. I take a knee for myself.”

Rose Barboza, founder and co-director of Black Owned Maine and co-owner of Black Owned Media, said kneeling is one of the most powerful forms of respect. “Kneeling is a way to slow down when the world is constantly trying to force you to stand up. Kneeling is a form of rest, something that Black and Brown people are conditioned to reject,” she wrote in an email.

Krys Hynes Cecil takes a knee in Brunswick. Photo by John Ripton, courtesy of Kneeling Art Project

She chose to participate as a photographer because she believes social justice takes many forms, and one is through art. “As an active participant in this movement – as well as a fan of Titi’s work – I felt strongly compelled to show my voice from behind the lens,” she wrote. “My subjects were chosen based on my personal relationship with their stories. I chose friends and family who come from varying backgrounds and origins yet all have close connections to the act of kneeling.”

“I kneel for the same reason Colin Kaepernick kneeled in the football games,” Makayla Edwards said in her statement for the exhibition. She was among the people Barboza photographed. “I kneel to show respect to the unarmed Black men and women who were murdered by police officers. I’m kneeling against police brutality, it needs to end. We kneel in power and together.”

Photographer David Wade is showing an image of Portland artist Daniel Minter taking a knee with one finger in contact with the floor, his eyes gazing ahead of him. “This Taking a Knee is taking a pause to lower myself closer to the earth, to touch the source that connects us all, to gather all my strength and resolve, with the help of the mother and the ancestors prepare my soul to once again stand up and fight,” Minter wrote in his statement.

Photographer Ann Tracy has been a feminist since her teen years in Massachusetts in the 1960s, when she fought to take a mechanical drawing class that was intended only for boys. “Ironically, I didn’t like the class but felt I had to gut it out for other girls down the road,” she said.

Tracy, who is white, has been a progressive activist since. “I think it’s important for all white people to speak out for social justice, as we’ve had this skin privilege which has helped us in ways we really don’t realize, compared to our Black peers,” she said. “We don’t get arrested and perhaps killed for driving while white. I don’t think we can imagine what this does to a person. It’s up to white people to dismantle white supremacy and this art project is one way that I help to convince others that it’s ‘our’ work, and not the work of already beleaguered Black people.”

Photographer John Ripton asked his subjects to pick the location for their photo and to wear a significant article of clothing or bring an object to hold to express their identity. Jean Medard Zulu, who is from the Democratic Republic of Congo, holds a ceremonial knife above his head in a dramatic pose on the Eastern Prom in Portland, overlooking the harbor, his yellow-gold sneakers and shirt, striped in red and standing out against the blue of his jeans, the sky and water – the colors of the Republic of Congo flag.

Jean Medard Zulu holds a ceremonial knife from the Democratic Republic of Congo as he takes a knee in Portland. Photo by John Ripton, courtesy of Kneeling Art Project 

Zulu is a member of the Yanzi tribe, and the knife he is holding was stolen by mercenaries in the late 19th century, he said. He purchased it from a Belgian art gallery. “In that effort, I finally got back what was stolen from my ancestor’s hand,” he said in his statement. “So, I lift my arm holding the ‘Epalang Knife’ not as a sign of violence but as a sign of self-appropriation and freedom commemorating my ancestors who died for me. On their shoulders I stand up today. With this historic knife, I also salute those in America who fight for their ancestors and join them in their struggle to end racism here and throughout the world.”

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