In October 2014, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was gunned down by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke near 41st and Pulaski. When news of the teen, who was shot 16 times, went public it set off another round of recent protests against racial profiling, police brutality and criminal investigations. One protester in the crowd had this to say about decreasing incidents like this: “It Stops With Cops.”
(“It Stops With Cops,” photo courtesy of and created by Michael D’Antuono)
The quote came from New York artist Michael D’Antuono in the form of an 8-foot banner of a painting with the same declaration. D’Antuono was in attendance to support McDonald and to protest Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s delay in releasing video footage of the incident, which would prove that civilian testimonies were purposely manipulated. Parts of this Chicago protest were included in D’Antuono’s 2016 documentary, “Black Injustice America.”
Official trailer: Black Injustice America (See video below)
Gurulife’s Shamontiel L. Vaughn spoke with D’Antuono about his art, what inspires him to take on these political and cultural topics, the Black Lives Matter movement, and how he feels about today’s classroom education.
Shamontiel Vaughn: What made you reach out to Russell Simmons for the documentary? How did that happen?
Michael D’Antuono: As it happens, Russell also was one of the judges who picked my painting “The Talk” to be included in the Manifest Justice show in LA last year. Then recently, Russell’s political director invited me to exhibit my painting “Progress?” at the Museum Of Drug Policy show in NYC that Russell spoke at. It was there that I interviewed Mr. Simmons about his experiences with the police for my film “Black Injustice America.”
Recommended Reading: “Controversial painter Michael D'Antuono visually challenges racism, politics, pollution”
SV: Considering you show up at anti-brutality events that are often linked to Black Lives Matter, what is your take on the term "All Lives Matter"?
MA: While all lives certainly do matter, it’s specifically black lives that are treated with less value by our government. The powers that be in Michigan decided the people of Flint, a predominantly black community, could be sacrificed to save a few bucks for tax cuts for their rich predominantly white constituents. Then you have the black-white incarceration gap problem. African-Americans comprise 14 percent of regular drug users but are 37 percent of those arrested for drug offenses. So the saying “All Lives Matter” suggests a false equivalency and ignores the disparities in privilege and liberty.
SV: What is your response to those who don't believe in global warming? Judging from your painting "What the Frack?" "Winds of Change" and "Drill Baby, Spill" you clearly lean toward the side of environmentalism.
(“What the Frack?” photo courtesy of and created by Michael D’Antuono)
MA: Saving the planet on which we all depend on for our very existence is by far the most pressing issue of our time. Actually, the planet will survive us, but as we continue to make it less inhabitable, it’s our own eventual demise that we are causing. The greed of a few, coupled with apathy and ignorance of the many is what will most likely do us in. There are two camps of people who deny the science of climate change: those who profit from creating it and those who believe the propaganda of the first camp. I would ask those who don't believe in global warming one simple question: Who’s opinion do you trust more — the overwhelming majority of the world’s scientific community or those accepting money from the fossil fuel industry?
SV: It seems only natural that there would be a painting in the works for Trump, Clinton or Sanders. You mentioned Sanders possibly pointing at one of your paintings at the Washington Square Park rally. Is there a new presidential painting coming anytime soon? Or, have you steered more toward anti-brutality these days?
(“Blood Money,” photo courtesy of and created by Michael D’Antuono)
(Editor's Note: On Wed., June 8, D'Antuono tweeted a new piece of art about Trump.)
MA: I generally prefer to paint about timeless issues as opposed to current events or individuals because those paintings have a longer shelf life. That said, I might force myself to do something that speaks against Trump. It would be cheaper and easier than moving to Canada.
SV: What is your ultimate goal with the documentary now that it's been released to the public?
MA: My goal is to reach a broad white audience and wake them from the comfort of their ignorance of the institutional racism black families have to deal with every day. I hope to do this by expanding my 25-minute film into an hour documentary, or even better, a full-length feature. While I’ve released the trailer on YouTube to the general public, at this time I’m making the 25-minute film available only to potential collaborators or investors who might like to work with me toward the goal of expanding it into a format that affords the reach the issue deserves.
SV: Creative courses are being shunned in many schools with standardized testing being the mandatory way to get funding. Did you learn to paint in school or were you self-taught? How do you feel about creative courses slowly diminishing in the school system?
MA: While in my particular case, I was pretty much left to my own devices in school, I believe children need to be encouraged to explore and develop their creative thinking. One of the few areas America is still No. 1 at is the creative arts, such as film and music industries. A lot of that has to do with the American education system we came from. Now our children are being taught in an educational environment more like that of China’s, where cold analytical thinking is valued over individual, critical thinking and creativity. Maybe that means we will just produce more Spocks and fewer Kirks.
(Photo courtesy of Michael D’Antuono. About his newest 2016 painting “Class System”: “It speaks to the issue of the effort to privatize primary education, creating an even greater gap in education opprtunity between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots.’”)
To see more art by D’Antuono, visit his official website ArtandResponse.com.