Black Lives Matter projection

By Rosemary Hattersley. Posted

Before daybreak one morning in June, a huge 120×100 ft (30.5×36.5 m) video projection appeared on the wall of the Gold Medal Flour Mills building in Minneapolis. Gil Scott Heron’s iconic track The Revolution Will Not Be Televised played over a looped set of images and video clips featuring US civil rights leaders. The installation was a powerful message of how things must and will change. The thought-provoking projection is powered, of course, by Raspberry Pi.

Its creators, artist Kareem Rahma and entrepreneur, coach, and olive oil importer David Dellanave, were only too happy to fill The MagPi in on how the project came about.

Historical significance

Kareem explains: “The idea was to display a juxtaposition of peaceful protestors with violent, oppressive police and elevating the names of Black people who have been killed by police in America.” Having had the germ of an idea for such a project, New York-based Kareem tweeted asking for someone to help him make it happen. Minnesotan David, who he’d worked with a decade previously, responded. The two worked remotely until the time came to install their project at its location.

David suggested making use of Raspberry Pi. He describes it as his “go-to for small projects and display dashboards” at the gyms he administers, rather than politically charged public statements. “I’ve never done anything outside the realm of the strictly practical, so this was a cool opportunity to be a part of,” he says.

Raspberry Pi Zero’s low cost appealed partly because the setup might get confiscated or destroyed

Due to the nature of the project, there was always a risk that “the setup could get confiscated or destroyed,” says David. “So it was a huge advantage to have hardware that was cheap enough to be practically disposable.”

Kareem is also a newcomer to public art displays, though he did help produce a projection mapping project for The Museum of Pizza in New York!

For the Black Lives Matter projection, Kareem says: “We wanted to do something that would shock people a little bit, make them uncomfortable, and take advantage of this period of calm that was happening at night-time due to politicians successfully suppressing protests.” They worked with producer Hayley Pappas, creative director Smiley Stevens, and editor Khalil Anderson in Los Angeles to produce the first set of images and videos. Subsequent sets of content for the display were suggested by the local community in Minneapolis, as well as including transcribed speeches by Malcom X, James Baldwin, and leaders.

Long-distance protest piece

Minnesota-based David already had all the parts the project required. “I chose the non-wireless Raspberry Pi Zero specifically so there were no remote attack vectors possible. It’s more than powerful enough to play the content with no issue.”

He built a small tiltable platform for the projector from wood scraps in his garage. The setup runs off a small generator, so it’s mobile and not dependent on a power outlet.

Because it’s a public performance, it was important that the projection autoplays in a loop, with nothing to interrupt the Black Lives Matter message

The software side worked perfectly from the first go, he says. The advice of other Raspberry Pi and commodity hardware users “cannot be overstated” says David, who admits he’s not the most talented coder or software engineer.

Any tweaking needed was to get the optimum projection location so it covered the entire Gold Medal Flour building. “The site is historic, iconic, and massive. It’s also central to Minneapolis and can be seen from different parts of the city,” explains Kareem. With protests in cities across the US resulting in government imposed 10pm curfews, their projection was a risk.

Responses to the projection were immediate and very enthusiastic. “We’re very happy with how the idea has been received and hope that our project has inspired others,” says Kareem. “We’d love to see others replicate the idea, especially with permanent installations!”

Warning! Public Projection

Be mindful of local laws regarding public screening in your area. Seek permission from the owner of the wall or projection surface, or provide your own screen. Adhere to public safety regulations. And be mindful of broadcasting regulations in your area. You need a ‘non-theatrical’ film licence to show films and TV programmes in public in the UK.

Projection law

Showing films in public

Film licenses


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