Memorials aren’t memories; they have motives. They are historical; they are not history itself.

– Nate DiMeo  

Long before our current reckoning with racism, artists, activists, and members of the public have creatively reclaimed and reframed monuments that embody histories and systems of oppression. Their work raises critical questions about the future of our commemorative landscapes—and about what monuments can be. 

In Richmond, Virginia, artist Free Egunfemi Bangura uses techniques borrowed from tactical urbanism to further what she calls “commemorative justice.” Egunfemi’s project, Untold RVA, uncovers silences in the urban landscape, leveraging historical research to create interpretive interventions: wheat-pasted posters on street furniture, in vacant storefront windows and other seemingly empty spaces, and a location-based series of stories accessible to anyone with a mobile phone. The project, as Egunfemi describes it, is about correcting the historical record and unearthing “submerged historical narratives hidden in plain sight.” 

Closer to home, the annual Deer Island Memorial commemorates the forced removal and incarceration of the Nipmuc people on the Boston Harbor Islands in 1675, in the wake of King Philip’s War—and celebrates the survival of their descendants. This traumatic event is not remembered in bronze or granite but in movement, as participants make their way by foot and canoe from Natick to Deer Island. 

These interventions pose critical questions not only about whom we remember, but also how we remember. Today, powerful images of monuments in a moment of reckoning—from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Bristol, England—have become front and center on our social media feeds. What kinds of creative strategies do we need to foster a more just public memory and public spaces for the future? 

Public Art, Public Memory is a discussion series co-hosted by MAPC and NEFA, to wrestle with some of these tough questions: How do monuments and memorials shape our experience of public space—and how we define whom “the public” includes? What should we do with monuments that no longer reflect our shared history and collective values (or never did to begin with)? How can we reimagine the systems that have produced and maintained these public symbols of celebration and oppression? And how can artists and public art help us reframe the past and present to create more inclusive futures? 

This series explores the role that planners, artists, and community leaders can play in cultivating more just and inclusive public spaces through public art and collective memory. Participants will hear from artists and cultural organizers working at the intersection of creativity, history, and community-building, and learn about inspiring examples and practical tools to help shape more inclusive and expansive monuments in our region. 

Join us, weekly on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. ET, from September 22 through October 13, 2020. 

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