In the words of artist Amy Sherald, "Producing this image keeps Breonna alive forever."
The image the painter is referring to is that of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old EMT who was fatally shot by police inside her Kentucky home in March, and the one commissioned by Vanity Fair for the monumental cover of its September issue, which is titled "The Great Fire."
Revealed on Monday, Aug. 24, the issue's cover features Sherald's painting of Taylor, in which she is standing alone with one hand on her hip and donning a blue dress against a blue backdrop. As Sherald explains to Vanity Fair, the shade is inspired by aquamarine, the birthstone for March. Around her neck hangs a gold cross on a chain. On her left hand, another subtle, but heartbreaking piece of jewelry can be found: an engagement ring, representing the one Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, was planning to propose with.
"In the beginning, they were just friends," Taylor's mother, Tamika Palmer, says in the issue. "Even before they got into a relationship, Kenny would say, 'I'm going to marry her.' I'd be like, 'Be careful what you wish for, Kenny.' I want to say they were together about five years. They had talked about having a baby at some point. And she had just recently started saying, Yeah, I think I'm almost ready. I just want to get a house first and then go from there. Because that was the next thing. She got her Charger. And next was the house."
While Taylor was tragically not alive to sit for Sherald's painting, the artist's reimagining displays Taylor's strength. "She sees you seeing her," Sherald tells Vanity Fair of the image. "The hand on the hip is not passive, her gaze is not passive. She looks strong!"
The artist, who famously created the portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, also reveals her intention for the work beyond capturing the late frontline worker. "I wanted this image to stand as a piece of inspiration to keep fighting for justice for her," she says. "When I look at the dress, it kind of reminds me of Lady Justice."
Vanity Fair's September issue joins the recently unveiled cover of O, The Oprah Magazine, which also centers on an image of Taylor. The magazine's September cover is also historic in that it is the first in the magazine's 20-year history that does not feature the magazine's namesake, Oprah Winfrey.
"Imagine if three unidentified men burst into your home while you were sleeping. And your partner fired a gun to protect you. And then mayhem," Winfrey wrote for her "What I Know For Sure" column. "What I know for sure: We can't be silent. We have to use whatever megaphone we have to cry for justice. And that is why Breonna Taylor is on the cover of O magazine. I cry for justice in her name."
Taylor was fatally shot at least eight times by police officers, who executed a search warrant in the early hours of March 13 at her apartment. The officers, who had been granted a "no-knock" warrant, opened fire after Walker fired his gun first. Walker claimed that the officers did not identify themselves before entering and suspected the home was being broken into. Nearly six months later, no one has been charged with her killing. One of the three officers, Detective Brett Hankison, has been fired.