NFL spotlights Columbia artist’s painting as part of new initiative

Updated: Oct. 2, 2020 at 7:08 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A Columbia artist’s painting is being viewed by thousands of people on the NFL’s social media sites.

Ija Charles was selected as one of seventeen artists to be part of the NFL Artist Replay initiative, which was started to amplify the voices and artwork of black, indigenous people of color around the world.

“The NFL actually reached out to me via email, and they said, ‘Hi Ija, would you like to be a part of artist replay?'” the 23-year-old Charles explained. “I thought it was spam because I was like there’s no way.”

She was given one week to come up with something on or off the football field that inspired her. While Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and his team lost their first week game against the Ravens, Charles wanted to highlight his wins off the field.

“He had been using his powerful voice and talent in the football game to actually use that as a way to start talking up against injustices in America,” she said.

Her painting shows two young children. Charles says they’re looking up to showcase their admiration for athletes, like Watson, who are using their platform to advocate for reform. Above the little boy’s head, you can see the image of Watson marching in Houston after the death of George Floyd. Above the little girl’s head, Charles painted a fall scene and people holding hands to show this football season, everyone should come together to support one another.

“The thing that I knew about me creating this piece was that it was supposed to spark conversation, and when I made it, I knew it was going to happen,” said Charles. “As soon as the NFL posted it on their page, people were like don’t mix politics with football. We don’t want to hear this and all that kind of stuff.”

Charles says she anticipated backlash and that it was needed to get people talking.

“The NFL is using their platform to speak out against things that are wrong, and knowing that they didn’t have to do it,” she said. “I have to give them my utmost respect, and I’m just happy and honored to have been given the opportunity to be a part of it.”

You can find Charles’ artwork all throughout Columbia, and she even has her own exhibit at Immersion SC, an interactive art exhibit downtown. She says she hopes her work inspires people to stand up for what they believe in.

You can view the NFL’s Artist Replay here.

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