Racial justice matters, and artist and documentary filmmaker Karina Epperlein is making sure Berkeley doesn’t forget it. On the garage of her Berkeley Hills home, Epperlein is inscribing a Black Lives Matter mural featuring the names and other identifying information of victims of police brutality across the country.
“For me, it is a memorial. I am meditating on these people when I spell out their names and dates. I’m honoring and celebrating who they were,” said Epperlein, who is German. “In Germany, memorials, plaques and stones mark where Jewish people have been murdered by Nazis. I wanted to do what’s been done in Germany in the 80s and 90s — the work to remember.”
Epperlein wants her statement to be permanent rather than temporary or moveable. The black-and-white mural is painted across her double-car garage door. On the top, it reads “Black Lives Matter” in bold black letters. She’s in the process of writing “In memory of Black people murdered by state violence and hate” next to it. Below, hand-lettered on individual panels are the name, birth date, date of death, age of death, city and state and occupation of victims of police brutality. She says the complete mural will feature between 80 to 100 names and expects the piece to be completed in six weeks.
While the mural is simple in design, the identifying data was hard to find, Epperlein says. Each name has taken her hours of online research.
“I was surprised at how difficult it was to find the birthdays and occupations. It taught me that these were disposable people who were shot in these criminal cases. It was all very shocking for me,” says Epperlein.
The motivation behind the mural stems from Epperlein’s background in Germany. Born after World War II, she grew up understanding the violence of antisemitism, racism, and fascism. “I was born into literal rubble and moral rubble,” she says. “It directed my life powerfully to justice and to never again allow atrocities like the Holocaust.” As a documentary filmmaker, she directed films like Voices from the Inside about women prisoners and their children and Finding the Gold Within, which follows the lives of six young Black men from Akron, Ohio as they begin college.
Combining her expertise in art, design and social justice, Epperlein now works three or four days a week painting, sketching and measuring on a scaffold outside her home. Nestled in the wealthy Berkeley Hills, the mural has attracted a lot of attention from neighbors and people walking or driving by. While she has received only positive reactions so far, she knows the mural may be vandalized at some point due to its public and prominent position.
“Friends say I should be prepared for it to be vandalized. Lots of my friends said I am making myself a target. Family in Germany said I will make myself a target,” she says.
However, Epperlein is prepared and believes the mural’s desecration will only add to the power of the artwork. “When it does get vandalized, it will be a very visible act,” she says. In the meantime, Epperlein continues to research and paint the mural, currently clocking in over 60 hours of work so far. Ultimately, she hopes her process of meditating on the names will come through for current and future visitors.
She says, “When people see it, I hope they have a spiritual moment, a moment of the heart. In front of the memorial, they can get silent, contemplate, and allow sorrow. They can think about white privilege, their humanity, their tendencies to see other people as lesser. They can learn who these people were and spend time with them.”
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