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John Sims, Freedom Memorial at Gamble Plantation, 2020. STILL. video animation with sound. 7:00 min. AfroConfederate Flag: 12 Foot, 2020. nylon. 12 x 12 ft. Freedom Memorial Marker, 2020. latex paint on synthetic material. 45 x 42 x ¾ in. Courtesy of the artist.

Still from John Sims, Freedom Memorial at Gamble Plantation, 2020. video animation with sound. 7:47 min. Courtesy of the artist. 

Marking Monuments

January 22 – March 6, 2021
USF Contemporary Art Museum Lee and Victor Leavengood Gallery + Online

Marking Monuments is curated by Sarah Howard, USF Curator of Public Art and Social Practice; and organized by the USF Contemporary Art Museum. 

CAM Galleries Will Be Open for USF Faculty, Staff, and Students - Reservations Required 

<Download Press Release

 

ONLINE EXHIBITION

Exhibition Home   //   Essay by Sarah Howard   //   Foreword + Acknowledgements
Ariel René Jackson   //   Joiri Minaya   //   Karyn Olivier in collaboration with Trapeta B. Mayson   //   John Sims   //   Monument Lab

 

Marking Monuments
Sarah Howard 

 

Marking Monuments engages with the global dialogues confronting and dismantling colonialist and racist monuments, markers and memorials in public space by presenting a selection of artists’ installations and interventions that challenge, erase and transform dominant histories, offering reimagined representations for equity in public culture. The projects in this exhibition offer creative approaches to unfix history and reclaim space to reveal diverse narratives expanding collective knowledge and memory. Asserting the power and potential of art and the vital role of the artist to challenge and reframe critical social issues, these projects respond to the historical context of existing monuments, their site and community to shed light on questions of commemoration, visibility, permanence and inclusion in representation—Who is responsible for inscribing public space? Who is being honored and how? How do monuments and memorials generate knowledge and memory of our past, present and future?

In the recent past, a number of exceptionally heinous and violent acts have generated a groundswell of support for monument removal, breaking down barriers and beliefs to gain social, political and economic support from states and cities across the nation in efforts to remove colonialist and Jim Crow-era symbols erected as markers of anti-Black intimidation campaigns and Indigenous oppression.1 In response, a number of progressive organizations like Take ‘Em Down NOLA, the public art and history research studios of New Orleans’s Paper Monuments and Philadelphia-based Monument Lab led local actions to identify problematic and offensive monuments. Engaging municipal agencies, civic and grass roots organizations, academics, artists and the general public, these leaders in the monument movement created community-driven participatory processes to provoke awareness through exhibitions, think tanks and workshops generating dialogues and imagination around new narratives honoring erased histories, and diverse public representations for future generations. As part of Monument Lab’s groundbreaking work in the public art field, they teamed up with Mural Arts Philadelphia to present a city-wide exhibition in 2017, inviting 20 artists to respond to the central question: What is an appropriate monument for our current city? Commissioned as prototype monuments, the artists’ temporary works were installed in Philadelphia’s neighborhood parks, public plazas and squares responding to historical sites, unearthing untold narratives and generating new collective memory of past, present and future.2 Marking Monuments features Monument Lab’s Field Trip, a hands-on activity which invites the audience to participate in expanded engagement with monuments in their own community. 

Commissioned for Monument Lab’s exhibition of creative speculations, artist Karyn Olivier’s The Battle Is Joined looks to the past to reflect the present. Intertwining histories from two monuments and memorials to battle in Philadelphia’s Vernon Park,3 one of which was encased and concealed from public view during both World War I and II, Olivier transformed a 20-foot-high memorial into a mirror clad monument honoring the local community. Effectively rendering the existing monument invisible, the reflective surface captures, depicts, and magnifies the presence of surrounding residents and their landscape and activities to honor and spotlight the Germantown neighborhood, historically a German immigrant area that has evolved into a predominantly African American neighborhood. In Marking Monuments, a video of still images of the installation is accompanied by an audio recording of Philadelphia Poet Laureate Trapeta B. Mayson reading Monuments to Brown Boys, her poetic response to the monumental looking glass. 

Using narrative and meaning to inform and cultivate relationships between site and community, Ariel René Jackson’s film Bentonville Forecast: In the Square includes intergenerational voices of local artists and activists reflecting on their experiences and perceptions of the Confederate soldier atop the now removed Bentonville Confederate Monument. Inspired by their research on the discriminatory practices of all-white “sundown towns,” the film depicts the artist’s poetic use of a weather balloon, typically used to capture meteorological data and environmental conditions, as a metaphor and tool to both measure the temperature of the public square, as well as obscure and conceal the presence of the monument as a symbol and marker of exclusion and intimidation on their city’s landscape. 

Artist Joiri Minaya’s series The Cloakings also employs concealment as a creative strategy for intervention, covering the figures of Christopher Columbus and Ponce de Leon with tropical patterns stripping them of their identities, subverting and camouflaging their colonizing power. Using the aesthetics of early colonizers’ botanical illustrations, Minaya subverts the decorative nature of the imagery with colorful patterns of tropical plants possessing dual powers for both healing and poison. Illustrations of manchineel trees, castor bean plants, yaupon holly, coontie palms and rompe saraguey weave the Indigenous and Afro-diasporic histories of resistance and rituals of protection into the fabric cloakings. The redressed statues become symbols of strength and resilience in the face of contemporary colonialization. Minaya’s framed photo-documentation of two public interventions in Miami, Florida, are mounted on fields of wallpaper replicating The Cloaking patterns. A rendering of Minaya’s proposed intervention for the Government House in Nassau, Bahamas, which was unable to be realized, is accompanied by public responses to the proposal, elicited on tourist souvenir postcards. 

Artist, writer and activist John Sims further expands the concept of reclamation of public space and anti-Black symbols and iconography with his animation and proposal Freedom Memorial at Gamble Plantation. Challenging the narrative and romanticization of a Confederate legacy, Sims presents new memorials, markers and symbols to shift the site’s commemorative focus, transforming the former sugarcane plantation and Florida State Park in Ellenton, Florida, into a space for healing and reconciliation. The flyover animation features a renamed plantation site4 and an obelisk inscribed with the names of the last enslaved people to work and live at Gamble Plantation. Depicted in the animation and installed in the gallery, Sims’s AfroConfederate Flag, which reclaims and transforms the Confederate symbol with the colors of the Pan-African movement, and a recontextualized historical marker, both honor the plantation’s enslaved Africans and their descendants. Following two decades of work engaged in the ongoing cultural dialogue and movement to dismantle toxic symbols of white supremacy and institutionalized racism around the globe, Sims’s proposal for Gamble Plantation is part of a larger call to action to repeal state laws protecting and celebrating Confederate heritage and anti-Black iconography. 

Confronting and responding to monuments as markers symbolizing legacies of oppression, violence and hate, the projects of Marking Monuments harness the power of art to challenge conventional histories and elevate previously unrecognized narratives in public space. Artists continue to challenge our social and political systems to provoke space for dialogue, and access to transformative perspectives to shed light on new meaning for a just and equitable future. As we continue to reckon with our colonialist and racist past and address present symbols and systems of racism, we look to artists to shine light on continued cultural and social injustices and envision equitable representations and commemorations for future generations. 

Sarah Howard
Curator of Public Art and Social Practice
USF Institute for Research in Art

 

1. See https://abcnews.go.com/US/recent-flashpoints-controversy-confederate-symbols/story?id=49225648 for a brief summary of events from 2015 through 2017. For more information about the historical underpinning and political significance of Confederate monuments, see https://abcnews.go.com/US/historians-debate-americas-sordid-history-racism-confederate-monuments/story?id=71486827
2. https://monumentlab.com/projects/monument-lab-philadelphia-citywide-exhibition-2017
3. For more on the references within Olivier’s work, see Paul Farber and Ken Lum, Monument Lab, Creative Speculations for Philadelphia, 2020, p. 147.
4. In 1925, the Gamble mansion and grounds were purchased by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) and donated to the State of Florida as a memorial to Confederate officer Judah P. Benjamin, who briefly took refuge at the plantation before fleeing the country to escape Federal troops after the end of the Civil War. The Judah P. Benjamin Confederate Memorial at Gamble Plantation Historic State Park continues to serve as the headquarters for the Florida Division of the UDC.

 

 

Marking Monuments is made possible by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Stanton Storer Embrace the Arts Foundation, IRA Initiatives for Social Justice Fund, USFCAM Art for Community Engagement (ACE) Fund, the Lee and Victor Leavengood Endowment, and the Florida Department of State.