Welcome to Monument Lab, a public art and history podcast. Each episode, host Paul Farber explores stories and critical conversations around the past, present, and future of monuments. We speak to the artists, activists, and historians on the frontlines, building the next generation of public spaces through stories of social justice and equity. Here are the monumental people, places, and ideas of our time.
We speak to Paul Ramírez Jonas about the idea of Public Noise, a new proposal where he inverts the idea of an equestrian monument and presents a stage for debating what it means to occupy and tangle with public space.
Nicole Awai is an artist and educator, born in Trinidad and based in NYC and Austin, where she teaches at the University of Austin. Her monument proposal Reclaimed Water CC’d takes on the legacies of Columbus, colonialism, and the dialectic of exploration and exploitation.
Coco Guzman is a Spanish-Canadian queer artist based in Toronto. Guzman draws, documents, and gathers stories that are public and intimate. They created Missing Democracy – modeled after pet posters posted on utility poles and community bulletin boards – where a Grumpy Cat stands in for democracy. We speak with Guzman about their approach to working on and in public spaces, especially to deal with memory as monumental in subtle, purposeful ways.
Eric García, based in Chicago, uses his political cartoons, mixed media installations, murals, hand printed posters and drawings to to engage ideas of nationalism, white supremacy, and exclusion. For his recent monumental poster, Monument to Lucy Gonzalez Parsons, he highlights a labor leader and anarchist organizer from Chicago whose impact on the history of labor is astounding. We speak to García about Parson, how he learned about her, and how he could better honor her.
Regina Agu has been researching and engaging green spaces in Houston, including Emancipation Park, especially to understand the legacy of communities of color in these spaces. As an artist, in a city where zoning laws, or lack thereof, impacts preservation, Agu also has seen the ways artists are on the forefront of innovating around and along with those parameters. Agu has been a visiting artist and resident of Project Row Houses and the University of Houston, where she studied the psychogeography of Emanciaption Park. She has witnessed the aftermath of monument takedowns in New Orleans, and seen firsthand how artists can take the lead in reclaiming, re-naming, public spaces.
In collaboration with the Pulitzer Arts Foundation’s Striking Power exhibition, Monument Lab has launched Public Iconographies: a project mapping monuments of St. Louis with a research team in museums, parks, and public spaces around the whole city. To kickoff this project, we spoke to a trio of artists – Matt Joynt, Anthony Romero, and Josh Rios – as they prepared for their own exercise in mapping.
Renowned artist and social sculptor Ana Teresa Fernández joins us to discuss her life growing up in Mexico and Southern California, and what happened when she painted the border near Tijuana. We also explore her continued artist’s practice at global border lines and crossing points for migrant families including the Mediterranean Sea, and her recent collaboration with writer and cultural geographer Rebecca Solnit.
Global Voices Advocacy Director Ellery Roberts Biddle article “The New Gatekeepers: Will Google Decide How We Remember Syria's Civil War” explores how big tech companies like Google and Facebook are shaping our view of the historical record of war atrocities and other traumatic events. She is joined by Jackie Zammuto, a program manager at Witness, who works with community organizations on documenting police accountability, immigrant rights, and indigenous rights through video and media.
Ida B. Wells was an investigative journalist, an educator, a suffragist, a truth teller. Today, her great-granddaughter, author Michelle Duster, carries on her legacy. This week, Duster travels to the University of Mississippi, where scholars and students have organized the Ida B Wells Teach In: A Monument to Justice, planned in response to an effort to rename the University’s journalism school after Ida B. Wells. It also occurs in the face of a struggle to remove a confederate monument from the heart of campus, all a part of ongoing efforts to seek “reparative justice” for the campus. We speak with Duster and two of the event organizers, History Professor Garrett Felber and graduate student Beth Kruse.
The Confederate Truce Flag is a little known piece of Americana. It was flown as a white flag of surrender and delivered to the Appomattox Court House, Virginia in April 1865. Though a piece of it is owned by Smithsonian, as a historical artifact or icon it has never attained the same prominence as the Confederate Battle Flag. Artist Sonya Clark wants to change that through her new exhibition Monumental Cloth, The Flag We Should Know at Philadelphia’s Fabric Workshop and Museum.
Activist Patricia Okoumou is widely known as the woman who climbed the Statue of Liberty on July 4, 2018. Okoumou ascended the base of the statue as a direct action against the Trump Administration’s harsh and inhumane tactics of family separation at the US-Mexico border. Monument Lab spoke with Okoumou shortly before her trial to discuss the motivations and effects of her monumental stand.
In November 2018, a series of violent fires throttled California and its surrounding landscape. Photographer Stuart Palley has spent five years documenting these disasters, creating a record of wildfires and climate change, tracing how hotter, drier conditions on the ground increase the risk of fire.
Recorded live from the Free Library of Philadelphia as a part of the 2019 One Book One Philadelphia festival, this episode features two brilliant scholar-artist-activists: Salamishah Tillet and Grace Sanders Johnson. Together with host Paul Farber, they spoke about how they approach memory in their works, what kind of archives and artworks haunt and/or inspire them, and how history lives in the present.
On November 10, 2018, a statue of Christopher Columbus was taken down in LA’s Grand Park, in part thanks to efforts from the Los Angeles’ City/County Native American Indian Commission. Vice Chair Chrissie Castro, shares insights behind the takedown, which was not isolated event, but a larger part of a decades long struggle for advocacy and representation among LA's diverse indigenous communities. She also reflects on her history as an organizer, her work with the city, and the next steps that may follow in response to the takedown.
Brentin Mock is a staff writer for CityLab who focuses on the role of justice and civil rights in the laws and policies that govern our lives, particularly in the urban environment. He has a long history of reporting on environmental justice, voting rights, and voter suppression. We speak to Mock about his recent piece for CityLab, “The Strangest Form of White Flight,” a feature within a larger series on the Cityhood movement in Georgia.
Stephanie Syjuco is an artist and professor from UC Berkeley. Syjuco is one of the four artists featured in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Disrupting Craft: Renwick Invitational opening this week across the street from the White House. Syjuco works on monuments by scaling them to handheld objects, newly imagined commodities, and tools for protest.
Michelle Angela Ortiz, visual artist and muralist, has collaborated with mothers and their families at Berks, an immigrant family prison, several hours away from her hometown of Philadelphia. Ortiz has worked to bring the stories of these detained mothers and their families to prominent public spaces where powerbrokers may connect with stories of these mothers in new ways – including last year at Philadelphia's City Hall as a part of the Monument Lab 2017 exhibition. This week, Ortiz installed a new phase of her Familias Separadas project on the Pennsylvania State Capitol steps in Harrisburg and around the city.
The Museum of Capitalism was co-founded by Timothy Furstanau and Andrea Steves of FICTILIS, an artistic-curatorial team who the New Yorker has described as constructing “exhibitions and interventions animated by a playful interrogation of social institutions.” FICTILIS opened the first iteration of their Museum in a decade-old retail space that had never been occupied in Oakland’s Jack London district, garnering thousands of visitors and international attention. Currently, the Museum is open at the School of the Museum of Fine Art at Tufts University in the Boston area through October 25, 2018.
Paper Monuments from New Orleans — led by Bryan C. Lee Jr. and Sue Mobley – grew out of the takedown of four Confederate monuments in the city last year. Rather than look to replace the toppled figures and move on, Paper Monuments has gathered hundreds of under-told stories about the city’s history on posters designed by artists and storytellers, and wheat pasted them across New Orleans. They have been tapped by the city of New Orleans to help re-imagine public spaces around empty pedestals.
Art Historian Kirk Savage is one of the nation’s foremost experts on monuments. Savage is the author of several books including Monument Wars and Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth Century America, which was recently reprinted in an updated edition from Princeton University Press. Savage traces how so many confederate monuments were installed on public lands, who initially paid for them, and how they reinforced practices of white supremacy. In recent projects, he is collaborating with artists on permanent and temporary monument projects.
Artist Hank Willis Thomas is a leading thinker on monuments and one of the co-founders of For Freedoms, the largest public art campaign in the history of the United States. Thomas worked with Monument Lab last year in Philadelphia on the prototype monument All Power to All People, a monumental-sized afro pick installed across from City Hall. He also produced Raise Up on the grounds of the National Peace and Justice Memorial in Birmingham. In this episode, we are also joined by Evan Walsh, a photographer and For Freedoms Communications Coordinator.
Welcome to Monument Lab, a public art and history podcast. Each episode, we will be talking to artists, activists, and historians about the monuments we have inherited from the past and the people and movements who are critically engaging them now. These are the people building the next generation of monuments through stories of social justice and solidarity.