Marsha Reid started Kindred Arts as a cultural equity initiative that aims to spark civic dialogue through art. The “Monumental Tour” is a touring exhibition currently on display in Philadelphia that empowers social change through the arts and there are some spectacular pieces on display. Here is a quick catch-up on the pieces in case you have missed it.
Currently the tour is in Philadelphia and if you’re confused as to what they are really trying to do let’s try to explain. The Monumental Tour offers to the public an “opportunity to engage with questions of symbolism, history, and the genealogy of artefacts.” The tour deliberately confronts issues surrounding “systemic inequities, police brutality, and the questionable historical legacies that are cemented into the public sphere.”
“We ask: How do we facilitate the productive civic dialogue needed to shape the national identity in the long term? and, how can we use this dialogue and our voices to create fundamental change in the American experience?”
There are several art pieces on display, including Hank Willis Thomas’ All Power To All People. This statue combines the Afro pick and the Black Power salute that was commonly found amongst the 1960s civil rights movement. The title refers to the Black Panther Party slogan. The piece is a call to action, according to Thomas, “we the people are standing up to take the power back.” While the historical civil rights stuff is obvious to many viewers, what does the Afro pick really mean? The Afro pick means a lot of different things to different people. It’s a symbol of an era, a sound, and a counterculture – a uniting motif “worn as adornment, a political emblem, and [a] signature of collective identity.”
Coby Kennedy’s The Box is a protest work about the “gross abuses of civil liberties found in American incarceration systems.” The glass and steel sculpture has the exact dimensions of a solitary confinement cell. The sculpture pays specific tribute to Kalief Browder who was incarcerated for three years without a trial or any proof. The glass is etched with line renderings of the sparse accommodations of the cell – a bed, barred window, and a toilet. Alongside these etchings is text that draws parallels between the U.S.’s prisons and Guantanamo Bay.
Arthur Jafa’s Big Wheel is a sculpture made from old monster truck tyres and discusses the issues surrounding the U.S.’s economic changes, most notably deindustrialisation and the implementation of a service economy that has crippled many Black middle-class aspirations. There’s also a sound component that loops Teddy Pendergrass ballads that according to Siddhartha Mitter, “drench the room in a valiant but wounded masculinity, seductive and probably toxic, as authentic a product of late-industrial America as are the tires and gantry. It’s a spacious, yearning, open-ended work; a big mood.”
Christopher Myers’ Caliban’s Hands is a sculpture designed to be symbolic of the indigenous cultures affected by European colonial societies. It speaks to the dynamics of privilege, oppression, and forced servitude. The title itself is a reference to Shakespeare’s Tempest whose character Caliban is often featured in arguments defending and resisting colonialism.
These are all the sculptures present in Philadelphia but there is still one other. Kenhinde Wiley’s Rumours of War is purposefully evocative of centuries-old styles. Wiley took inspiration from militaristic statues that appeared in Italy during the Renaissance. That was the inspiration but the model was a Confederate statue of General J. E. B. Stuart which was one of the first to go up during the rise of Jim Crow. It’s a defiant response to white reactionary politics. It replaces the general with a guy in ripped denim jeans who seems to have been thrust into conflict. The horse is warlike and ready, but its rider seems vulnerable.
You don’t have to like all the sculptures, that’s the best part about art. You can ask your own questions and come up with your own answers, it’s the brilliance of subjectivity. While we here in Australia can’t go and visit the pieces there is a virtual experience on Monumental Tour’s website.
While it is very American especially given much of the subject matter, it does bring up some questions about Australia. Are we so different? Are America’s problems so dissimilar from ours, especially when regarding the treatment of Indigenous Peoples in Australia? It’s food for thought.
In other art news, a Frida Kahlo self-portrait is said to break several auction records.