After several controversial monuments in Golden Gate Park were toppled by protestors on June 19, 2020, artists and historians began to critically reassess the purpose of public art and reimagine existing cultural landscapes by adding context and challenging dominant narratives.
In June 2020, amidst the global coronavirus pandemic and following social unrest stemming from the killing of George Floyd, the relevance of monuments across the United States have been called into question and many have been officially or forcibly removed. In San Francisco the department of Recreation and Parks preemptively removed a statue of Columbus and days later activists forcibly felled statues of Junipero Serra, Francis Scott Key and Ulysses Grant in Golden Gate Park. Those who advocate for civic process were shocked by the manner in which the statues were removed, while native americans have long expressed dismay at the public display of statues venerating Christopher Columbus and Junipero Serra, monuments celebrating their legacy have remained throughout the state. With the statues gone and pedestals now empty it is a moment to consider the future meaning of these monuments and their potential power for reconciliation.
While the city committees may be engaged in prolonged and arduous discussions about the fate of such monuments, it is the responsibility of artists to offer generous and inclusive creative ideas and discourse to catalyse meaningful change. What were to happen if some of the pedestals remain vacant as public spaces for dialogue and sanctioned impromptu artworks? How can one write and rewrite history in relation to these monuments? What creative responses reflect our current values? How can the monument inspire and captivate its viewers withIn their own ideas, and imaginations and imaginative responses?
I propose to create a non-sanctioned, temporary public intervention within the park to demonstrate the potential of art to respond in an enlightened and empowered way. I will create a series of lenticular prints temporarily situated on screens within and adjacent to the empty pedestals. For example, opposite or atop the pedestal of Serra, underrepresented local native Californians will be displayed. A lenticular photo installation would show multiple staggered visuals. As one moves around the screen different photos of historic individuals are shown. For example, opposite Serra, Ishi could be displayed. The famous California Indian resided blocks away at the Affiliated Colleges between 1911-16 and often walked through the park. Also a 19th century illustration by Louis Choris could display Ohlone natives with a map of local San Francisco Peninsula village sites.
Situated within the vacant space of Francis Scott Key’s canopy, a lenticular screen could present lyrics of poems that better embody non violent, anti militaristic and inclusive views of american history. For example, the poem American Dream by Langston Hughes or Still I Rise by Maya Angelou with their portraits in the background.
Atop or opposite the vacant pedestal of Ulysses Grant stereo photos taken by Eadweard Muybridge will display portraits of Modoc California Indians who fought against the US Army in their homeland during the Modoc War offering an alternative view of the regional repercussions of Grant's military actions. In 1873 six Modoc Indians were brought to Alcatraz to be hung for attempted murder. They were sentenced to hanging but moments later word was relayed from President Grant that two of the men's sentences were commuted to life on Alcatraz. The other 4 modoc were hung.
These visual installations would be temporarily placed in situ and photographed in order to demonstrate the potential of augmenting the monuments with a layered, multi-dimensional and evolved view of history.
The fallen monuments of Junipero Serra, Francis Scott Key and Ulysses Grant, would be a well-suited backdrop on which to situate a compelling series of visual photo installations that demonstrate civil, empowered and thought provoking responses that consider the future meaning of these monuments and their potential power for reconciliation.
Ben Wood, July 14 2020
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