Arts and Culture

When you download the app, you’re greeted with Breonna Taylor’s smile. In photos and videos, you see her dancing in the car with her sister. Then, you’re transported to the garden itself. 

Breonna’s Garden” is full of her favorite things: tulips, butterflies and a hologram of her sister, Ju’Niyah Palmer, who shares memories.

The augmented reality art project pays respect to Taylor, an emergency room technician who aspired to become a nurse. Louisville Metro Police Officers killed her in her home in March 2020.

The artists behind “Breonna’s Garden” want it to focus on her life, not her death. They designed it to function as a place for Taylor’s family, friends and community members to find solace. The virtual flowers in the garden contain messages from friends, family and the public:

“I only get comfort in praying that you are with your granny looking over each other because I know how much you missed her,” Tamika Palmer, Taylor’s mother, says in one of the messages on the app. “We love you, and we miss you.”

It debuted in June at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. And this month, it’s featured during Miami Art Week at the Maurice A. Ferré Park, with a panel discussion held at the Perez Art Museum Sunday.

But augmented reality is, essentially, portable. It enhances the physical, tangible environment with virtual details through the use of a smartphone or tablet. So any space can be transformed into “Breonna’s Garden” with the app.

Conceptual artist and entrepreneur Lady PheOnix directed the AR experience, recruiting digital artist Sutu, aka Stuart Campbell, as a collaborator.

“I began following Breonna’s story through the media,” Lady PheOnix told WFPL News. “I actually didn’t care for the story and the energy with which the media was portraying the family or her, and I thought, let me look into what’s going on for myself.”

Lady PheOnix began to observe Palmer through social media, and connected with her via Instagram in the summer of 2020.

“I was like, OK… she’s got the real news. She’s the person with the only story that matters actually, because she’s family, she loved her,” Lady PheOnix said.

Palmer helped shape it, lending her voice and her memories to the app. She said it became a special project for her.

“It’s just a moment to be away from everybody, and to have by myself with my sister,” Palmer said.

Below are excerpts from Palmer and Lady PheOnix’s conversation with WFPL News, edited for brevity and clarity. 

On knowing right away that something in the AR or VR realm was the best fit: 

Lady PheOnix: “Because I wanted to create a virtual presence, and… provide Ju’Niyah the opportunity to be with her sister again. And for me, the only kind of real way to do that was with technology.”

On why she was initially reluctant to take part in the art project:

Palmer: “I didn’t want to do anything in the beginning. My mom was like, at some point, you have to like stop being in the background and actually do things that involve your sister. And so when I told her about it, she was like, well look at it… actually listen to what this lady is telling you, actually understand it before you just jump into anything and you do not fall in love with it. Once Lady PheOnix had explained it to me and everything, I actually did fall in love with it.”

On the messages left by community members in the app:

Lady PheOnix:“Sometimes other people, sharing their own experience, provide for us the words and even sort of like hold us with their words, right? Provide space for ourselves to be more fully expressed energetically… Because there were people who, you know, didn’t know the family, but were, of course, disturbed and heartbroken over what is going on, right, what went on. And so it’s an opportunity as well for the entire nation, the entire world to come to the garden and get some healing, right?

On why art can be a good medium for healing:

Palmer: “Well, I learned that everybody expresses their healing and expresses how they feel in different forms… I’ve learned through this whole process, a lot of people express themselves through art. Art is definitely very cool to me, because everybody gets to express themselves differently with their art too. Even though they can always paint the same picture, somehow, someway, it’s all different.”

Lady PheOnix: “I love that. And I think for me being, you know, a creative entrepreneur and artist… art is a language, it’s an energy, and it’s an opportunity for people to be seen and heard.”

On whether Louisvillians can expect a future event around “Breonna’s Garden”:

Lady PheOnix: “The next up for sure has to be at home base, has to be in Louisville… It will be the biggest one and the most special. Absolutely.”

Support for this story was provided in part by the Great Meadows Foundation.

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.