The works of 18 artists from around the country and world occupied front- and second-row seats at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, New York, during theU.S. Open tennis championship that ended Sunday. The exhibition revolved around racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement. Baltimore-based painter Megan Lewis, whose paintings enrich walls and windows across Baltimore, was one of the featured artists.
“It’s amazing," Lewis said Wednesday. “Any opportunity I get to express myself and do what I love is amazing to me.”
Lewis' acrylic painting is titled “Protect Blk Women Period” and depicts a Black woman with the words “Protect Blk Women” etched into her hair, positioned in front of a multicolored background. Lewis said the painting was inspired by Breonna Taylor, whose death from gunshots fired by Louisville Metro Police Department officers in March remains a flashpoint for ongoing protests.
Many of the works in the exhibit, titled “Black Lives to the Front” and supported by the U.S. Tennis Association, either celebrated Black communities' resilience or critiqued police violence and racial injustice. The exhibit dovetailed with women’s singles champion Naomi Osaka’s donning of masks during the competition that had the names of Taylor, Tamir Rice and other Black people killed by police.
“Anytime you stand against something that everybody doesn’t agree with, you’re doing justice,” Lewis said. “It’s very unpopular to stand beside something, believe something. Art speaks volumes.”
Lewis said she was contacted by an entity that the USTA contracted with to find artists for the showcase. The work used in the exhibition is part of a series she’s done since 2015, called “Blk Women Period.” Other paintings and murals featured in the series include one on the street-facing windows of 322 W. Baltimore St., and another at the corner of Baker Street and McKean Avenue in West Baltimore.
“Overall, my message is to protect Black women,” she said. “That’s in any, shape, form. It’s a continuous series that I will always do.”
Lewis said she’s received positive feedback on the painting from both people she knows and doesn’t know who’ve caught it while tuning in to the U.S. Open.
“I just hope that people see a message. ... Are they looking at what I’m saying?" she said about the responses.
“Black Lives to the Front” is part of the USTA’s Be Open initiative to celebrate diversity in tennis. As part of that initiative, the artwork that was on display will be auctioned off to support both the USTA Foundation and a tennis-related charity of the artist’s choice. Lewis chose the Harlem Junior Tennis & Education Program in New York City because it is run by a Black woman.
People can find more of Lewis' work throughout Baltimore, from the walls of schools to Oriole Park at Camden Yards to the Metro subway system.