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Through ‘Say My Name’ Collection, S.C. Artist Hopes to Spur Change


On Sunday, June 4, Ponysaurus Brewing in conjunction with Together We Stand will host an art experience to give voice to those who lost their lives to violence rooted in systemic racism and prejudice. The series, Say My Name, features five original canvas paintings by South Carolina artist Amanda Polito.


“Change happens when you're emotionally impacted by something. I think people are spurred on to want to change, to act, by their emotions,” Polito says. “I want someone to look at a painting and for it to be a gut kick that says this is not OK to just move on. We need to stop and work to make change and not just let these things keep happening over and over again.”


For this reason, Polito opted to paint individuals. The Say My Name collection includes portraits of Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Janisha Fonville, and Ahmaud Arbery.


In 2014, Cleveland police shot 12-year old Rice while he was playing with a toy gun. In 2015, Sandra Bland died under unusual circumstances while in police custody following an arrest during a traffic citation in Houston. That same year, Fonville, who had a mood disorder, was shot by police in Charlotte because she took a step toward them while in emotional distress. Arbery was pursued and killed by a former Georgia officer in Glynn County, Georgia, for running in a predominantly white neighborhood. It was Arbery’s death and the months-long delay in launching an investigation that first spurred the creation of Together We Stand.


“I'm looking at photos of these people, knowing their stories, looking into their eyes, and painting every feature. And the whole time I'm doing it, I'm thinking about the things that happened to them, especially some of the younger ones—how much life they would've had ahead of them.”


Say My Name will also include a painting of the Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston, a historic African American church where nine parishioners and reverends were murdered in 2015. In addition to these new pieces, a portrait of Tyre Nichols, which Polito donated to Together We Stand earlier this year, will join the collection for the event. Nichols died in January following a traffic stop in which Nichols was maced, tasered, and then beaten. His death and the subsequent release of video footage sparked protests in Memphis and a dozen other cities across the U.S.


“Everyone gets into a big uproar when one event happens, [but] it’s like we don't even have time to really react to it before the next thing happens,” Polito says. “And I think a lot of the victims have kind of gotten lost in that because it's so overwhelming.”


Even before beginning these paintings, Polito knew the process would be emotionally charged. Still, she says she underestimated the degree, especially when doing several pieces back to back. She hopes people who attend the event will feel similarly moved.


For Polito, the Say My Name collection is deeply personal. As the mother of a biracial son, she has often feared for his safety in a world where racially motivated atrocities continue to take place. She acknowledges that as a white woman, she can never truly understand the internal struggle and experiences a person of color faces, but she has witnessed how her son is treated. She recalls a family vacation where they were threatened at an Airbnb and her son couldn’t even get out of the car. The family ended up leaving, and she says the encounter had a deep impact on them all.


“Those things happen every day; it's not completely acknowledged,” Polito says. “And that's kind of where art comes in. Sometimes the more automatic thing is, ‘let's do a march,’ or ‘let's try to change legislation and hold people accountable.’ But art is such an important part of this conversation, too.”


Polito graduated with a degree in studio art from the College of Charleston in 2001. Raising a family left little time for creative projects, but in 2022, she picked up the paintbrush again. Her business, Dancing with Chaos, launched last summer.


Social justice plays prominently into her work, but she also paints abstract art with an emphasis on flora and fauna, as well as folk art, often featuring a Scandinavian motif. The painter says these pieces help finance the supplies and tools to create her social justice art. A selection will be on display (and available for purchase) alongside the Say My Name collection at Ponysaurus.


Given that Tyre Nichols’s murder occurred mere months ago, Polito says it’s hard to maintain hope for change in the future. Nevertheless, she will continue to make art that shines a light on injustice.


“Every little change in every single person makes a difference. So I do have hope that individuals are being affected,” she says. “Whether that means broad scheme changes, I don't know—but that's where it starts.”


The Say My Name Art Experience will take place on the upstairs patio of Ponysaurus Brewing (219 Hood St., Durham, N.C.) from 2 to 5 p.m., Sunday, June 4. RVSP here. For more on Amanda Polito and her work, visit


Freelance Journalist
Together We Stand NC

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