Society’s Cage: How the Black Lives Matter Movement is Being Reflected in 2020 Art


Revati Buchwald, Staff Writer

As we approached the cage, a grave feeling fell over the crowd and made way for silence. People circled around the art piece, reading stories written on the floor boards about the trials and tribulations of those who have been oppressed. There were no anecdotes of peace or relief, only horrific stories that made me question humanity. Only stories that amplified the hatred and cruelty of people, both past and present. Stories that grabbed hold of me and forced me to self-reflect on how I could help. I felt this piece educating me with raw human experiences that hold the power to shift perspective. 

My experience of seeing the Society’s Cage art piece on the Mall was impactful and eye opening. Built by a group of architects called the SmithGroup, it changes locations within the Washington, DC area. When I visited, it was standing on the Mall between the Washington Monument and the Capitol building. Society’s Cage is a cube-shaped structure, enclosed by standing and hanging metal poles. Along the outside of the structure are different statistics and stories of police brutality in the United States. Among these facts are other horrific stories such as lynchings or murders of African Americans throughout our nation’s history. 

According to the SmithGroup in their article entitled “Society’s Cage,” the physical lack of color and rigid prison-like bars are meant to visually reflect Black American experiences. The SmithGroup also says that their piece sheds light on the products of institutionalized racism in this country. This installation was created in response to the deaths of both George Floyd and Breonna Taylor as a way to educate, reflect, and record different experiences. The “record” aspect of the piece is included in a unique and profound way. Upon arrival at the piece, viewers are encouraged to enter the cube and hold their breath for as long as possible. After this exercise, they are to record their time and post it on social media with a specified hashtag. The inspiration for this exercise comes from the murder of George Floyd, in which he was forced under an officer’s knee for eight minutes and forty six seconds. 

Society’s Cage facilitates reflection from a distance, yet also allows for a fuller, more interactive experience. Its haunting facts and stories shocked me in ways I had never experienced. The brutal history and reality that America continues to face every day are defined by the imprisoning aspect of this art. 

The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement this year has also sparked creativity on a much greater scale. In her New York Times article entitled “The ‘Black Lives Matter’ Street Art That Contains Multitudes,” Julia Jacobs discusses street art on 5th Avenue in Manhattan. Different Black artists came together to paint the words “Black Lives Matter” along the street. 

Each letter is filled with images and colorful patterns depending on the artist who created that specific letter. The project encouraged community building and creative collaboration, but the art also had other impacts. These artists specifically chose to create this piece along the street in front of the Trump Tower in Manhattan, clearly making a political statement. 



Other major pieces inspired by the BLM movement can be seen on the covers of both Vogue and Vanity Fair magazines. Vogue asked artists to create BLM cover art that also advertised the latest Vogue pieces. According to the Widewalls Editorial in their article: “How Is the Art World Responding to the Black Lives Matter Movement Now?,” this Vogue cover art sparked controversy. Some people feel as though corporations are using BLM art for publicity and money, rather than spreading awareness. Despite the questionable motives of this work, the Vogue example displays the great influence of BLM movement in the art world.



Artists throughout the country and the world feel the need to reflect pressing issues in their work. There has been a significant rise in pieces influenced by the BLM movement this year, whether their goals are educational, political, or economic. Art allows for the amplification of voices and experiences around the world that continue to shape our history. What we take from these pieces is up to us, but they are there to plant a seed of education and growth.