Art is a powerful tool of social movements and a Lafayette artist is using his visual art skills to marry his support for the Black Lives Matter movement with his love and pride in his adopted Acadiana home.
Cory Stewart, known artistically as Cory St. Ewart, has made a splash at local protest events against racism and police brutality with his adapted Acadiana flag — the color scheme redone in black, green, red and yellow, colors common in flags of African countries, and the imagery of the gold star replaced with a clenched black fist.
Fellow protesters have sought him out at events after seeing his flag waving in the distance, excitedly asking where they could get one. The 26-year-old said he never anticipated the flag’s reception.
“If I did, I would need a bigger ego check than I’ve ever needed before,” Stewart chuckled.
Stewart created the flag for a Black History Month showcase with the Willingly Rejected artist collective to celebrate Black culture and artistry. The artist said he’s a fan of flags and the power they have to communicate allegiance and support and wanted to create something that encompassed his pride in his adopted home and his Black identity.
The flag’s meaning and power has grown in light of the current protest movement. Protests and demonstrations have been ongoing nationwide since late May, when George Floyd died in police custody after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly 8 minutes while Floyd was prone on the street.
Acadiana residents have risen to organize anti-racism demonstrations, challenge White silence against discrimination in the community and protest police brutality. Stewart has been a fixture at the marches, even organizing a Juneteenth event in downtown Lafayette. Juneteenth is a celebration of Black liberation; it marks the day Union soldiers announced the freedom of enslaved Black Americans in Texas on June 19, 1865.
Stewart said the flag has served as his protest sign.
“It was my way of saying Acadiana is here to support Black lives and this is what we want to look like moving forward. I thought the flag was a good way of sharing that message without using words explicitly,” Stewart said.
Stewart moved to Lafayette in 2012 to attend the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He graduated in 2017 and has remained in the city, working as a manager at Rêve Coffee Roaster’s UL campus location, Campus Grounds, and an artist. Stewart said Lafayette and Acadiana are special; there’s a strong sense of regional pride, a vibrant art culture and an infectious, joyful sense of hospitality.
“Lafayette wants people to consider Lafayette home and consider Acadiana home. It wants people to feel good and have a good time, love the city, love the culture and love the people. The people want that — there is no competitiveness, it’s only community,” he said.
Stewart said his flag now belongs to the community and its meaning has surpassed him and his original intentions. The artist said he hopes the flag is a reminder that the community is for everyone. Its meaning extends beyond Black pride; it also represents While allies who are proudly fighting for anti-racism causes and the progression toward equality and a better, changed world.
In that better world, Stewart said he hopes the diversity of Black people is celebrated. The artist described himself as individualistic; growing up in a middle-class family and attending private schools, he felt his Blackness was part of his identity but not the sum of his personhood. He said he wants other Black people to feel empowered to celebrate their differences and stand as individuals.
Blackness shouldn’t be a box Black people are forced to conform to, he said.
“If Black people still aren’t allowed to be anything they want, then there are some chains left to be broken. That’s my personal experience and what I want the future of Black pride and the future of Black people in America to be,” Stewart said.
Stewart established an online store, AcadianaBlack, in early June to sell reproductions of his design — on one-sided and dual-sided flags, T-shirts, decals, stickers and patches. The artist acts as a designer and middleman, partnering with online producers to make the goods, before shipping them to their new homes. He’s delivered AcadianaBlack designs locally, but also as far as Hawaii, Chicago and Los Angeles, he said.
The visual artist said it’s humbling and thrilling to know his design could be associated with this historical moment in the future.
Navigating and quickly scaling a new business has been strenuous, but the artist said he saw an opportunity to serve the community through his art — after covering production costs, all profits are donated to Black charities and organizations serving the Black community.
The 26-year-old said Thursday he was cutting his first $1,000 donation check to be divided between the Lafayette NAACP chapter and the UL Lafayette NAACP chapter. The donation brought a sense of pride, fulfillment and peace, he said.
Stewart said his devotion to charitable acts is driven by his Catholic faith. Raised in a partially Catholic household and in Catholic schools, Stewart said he didn’t delve into his faith fully until attending UL Lafayette. His exploration of faith changed his life and shaped his adult identity, Stewart said.
“I’m always challenging myself when it comes to empathy and helping the world and helping God’s people…this has been my challenge in my faith and what I’ve been exploring,” he said.