Vanity Fair revealed the cover of its special September issue on Monday morning, unveiling a portrait of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor painted by artist Amy Sherald. The stunning image of the Louisville emergency medical technician, who was shot and killed in March after police ambushed her in her apartment in a “botched” raid, marks the second magazine cover that pays tribute to Taylor this fall.
Guest-edited by author Ta-Nehisi Coates, the title of Vanity Fair’s September issue is “The Great Fire,” which focuses on themes of racial and social justice activism, art and power. Coates also wrote the cover story, “A Beautiful Life,” an as-told-to given by Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, that shares intimate details of her and Taylor’s life.
“Drawing from a series of interviews with Palmer in Louisville, Coates retells Taylor’s story in a way that only a mother can,” the magazine shared in a news release. “Renowned photographer LaToya Ruby Frazier also traveled to Louisville to photograph Taylor’s family and boyfriend holding the engagement ring he was never able to propose with.”
Palmer presents a sweeping portrait of her daughter, recounting her birth; her temperament as a baby (“she wasn’t a crier”); how she taught Taylor to ride a motorcycle; how her beloved daughter wasn’t troublesome, despite “somehow get[ting] in trouble with her mouth;” and how Taylor ultimately wanted to be a nurse.
Artist Amy Sherald, best known for her portrait of former first lady Michelle Obama for the National Portrait Gallery, also gave a behind the scenes interview about the creation of the cover, calling the image her contribution to the “moment and to activism—producing this image keeps Breonna alive forever.”
Sherald infused personal details into the portrait—a gold cross on a chain necklace symbolizing Taylor’s faith, an engagement ring on her finger; at one point during the process, the artist said she called on Taylor’s spirit to advise her on what color to paint the dress.
“I made this portrait for her family,” said Sherald. “I mean, of course, I made it for Vanity Fair, but the whole time I was thinking about her family.”
“I wanted this image to stand as a piece of inspiration to keep fighting for justice for her. When I look at the dress, it kind of reminds me of Lady Justice.”
Many are sure to have mixed feelings about the value and meaning of the posthumous cover, released hours after another video of police shooting a Black man in Wisconsin went viral, eliciting protests and clashes between police and protesters.
Since her death, Taylor has influenced a new law in Louisville that prevents police from executing “no-knock warrants,” which previously allowed officers to barge in on property without announcing themselves, as well asa mandate that all police wear body cameras. Only one of the officers involved in the deadly shooting has been fired from the Louisville Metro Police Department. To date, no charges have been filed in her killing, despite an international outcry and months of demonstrations.
Taylor will also be featured on the September cover of O, The Oprah Magazine.
Vanity Fair Editor-in-chief Rhadika Jones, in her monthly address to readers, said it was the magazine’s goal to make an issue that “would capture the spirit of this time, and that it would be beautiful, a keepsake. An object to push back against ephemerality. A way to remember, and a sign of things to come.”