A Call to Peace was a public art and history exhibition co-curated by New Arts Justice and Monument Lab around a central question: What is a timely monument for Newark? The exhibition was conceived in response to Military Park’s Wars of America monument (1926), built by sculptor Gutzon Borglum. Borglum, famed for creating Mount Rushmore and designing a Confederate Monument on Stone Mountain in Georgia, was also affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan and used granite from Stone Mountain as the pedestal for his sculpture in Newark.
As the park’s organisers were in the process of refurbishing the sculpture and officially updating the story it tells in the park, A Call to Peace attempted to engage and confront Borglum’s own fraught legacy as well as invite speculation on the broader role of public art in the city today.
A Call to Peace included four temporary prototype monuments by artists Manuel Acevedo, Chakaia Booker, Sonya Clark, and Jamel Shabazz, who each responded to the exhibition’s central question. The artists’ projects respectively focused on underrepresented veterans, engaging the legacies of the Confederate statues, and addressing the relationship between public spaces and historical memory. The artists were invited based on their interdisciplinary approaches to monumental work and their innovative approaches to art and social justice.
Alongside the prototype monuments, New Arts and Monument Lab opened a participatory research lab, staffed by local artists and educators, where passersby were invited to contribute their own speculative monument proposals. The collected responses will be added to an open database, posted on a community board in Express Newark, and shared as a report to the city in 2020. Every Thursday, the lab also hosted weekly “Monumental Conversations” with critical members of Newark’s community who are actively working on issues of monuments, cultural memory, and historic preservation. In a city with a strong artist-activist history, we saw A Call to Peace as an invitation for public participants to help redefine these complex histories and contested public spaces together.