Birmingham George Floyd art 'gives voice to minorities'

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Image source, Pete Lopeman
Image caption, Street artist Mohammed Ali said his tribute to George Floyd had attracted a lot of attention

A street artist who created a piece in tribute to George Floyd said he creates art to "give a voice to minority communities".

Mohammed Ali created the piece on Silver Street in the Kings Heath area of Birmingham at 20:00 BST on Monday.

He said many people had been coming to photograph the piece.

Birmingham City Council removed it within 24 hours but said this was a mistake and it was happy for it be redone.

Mr Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, died last week after being arrested by police outside a shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Video footage shows a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeling on Mr Floyd's neck while he was pinned to the floor and has led to protests across America.

"People were coming and taking pictures to share online and everybody was saying 'thank you so much, this needed to be said'," said Mr Ali, who received an MBE in 2016 for services to art and community cohesion.

Image source, Mohammed Ali
Image caption, Mr Ali created the piece at 20:00 BST on Monday, and it was removed on Tuesday morning

"Because of Covid-19 people were already connected globally, it is at a time when we are thinking of others and I am thinking about my friends in New York and Chicago," he said.

"They chose the wrong time to mess with the people because people are already feeling inter-connectedness and are together in solidarity."

The piece was painted on a wall adjacent to an Acorns Children's Hospice shop, where Mr Ali previously painted an image of Greta Thunberg.

"I felt that because they had endorsed my work, I sensed this would be okay and I didn't get permission," he said. "I had taken a view, perhaps a bit cheeky, because they had endorsed my work when I painted Greta."

Toby Porter, the chief executive of Acorns said he was "very sorry" the image was removed as it was a "message we all need to see".

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Councillor John O'Shea apologised "unreservedly" for its removal.

But Mr Ali described the council's response as "patronising".

"In normal circumstances you accept mistakes are made, human error, however in the time we are in you cannot excuse incompetence," he said.

"Clearly there's some kind of rationale here. I've never seen a removal that fast. In a parallel street there's artwork that's remained there for months and months so clearly there's been some swift action specifically to this piece of art. You can't dismiss it as 'a mistake was made'."

Since the artwork was taken down it has been repainted at the Kings Heath site, as well as four other locations around the city - Handsworth, Highgate, Balsall Heath, and a projection is also appearing in Digbeth.

"Graffiti is a scourge in our city and the operative that removed it did so in good faith - there was absolutely no political motive behind this," he said.

"However we accept that it was wrong, are investigating how this happened and would be happy for this artwork to be repainted at this location."

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