Picture this: as dusk falls, you walk onto the rolling green of Strathmore’s grounds to see the moving, luminescent faces of boundary-pushing artists looking back at you from the trees. This October, Strathmore welcomes you back to its 16-acre campus with an outdoor art installation that highlights artists’ work as contributors to the community. Australian artist Craig Walsh’s Monuments: Creative Forces features moving portraits of artists projected into the night sky, transforming trees into sculptural monuments and honoring the transformative work of the artists themselves.
When we think of a monument, many picture a marble statue of a man from another time or, perhaps, a pillar. Walsh’s Monuments challenges that mental picture, expanding it to celebrate living members of our community, and swapping out chiseled marble for an ethereal face in the leaves of a tree. “The conversation around monuments is front and center right now and while an essential dialogue about the appropriateness of many monuments continues, visitors to the DC area also know first-hand the power of visiting installations that reminds us of our better angels,” remarks Strathmore Artistic Director Joi Brown.
Monuments leads us to question who gets honored in our public spaces and what kind of work is viewed as worthy of being honored with a public monument. Walsh uses the installation to tell “the sort of stories that won’t be turned into permanent monuments, given the political, economic, and social status that enables those permanent monuments to exist.” Every day, people make contributions to our community that might never be recognized by a marble statue in a city center but that nevertheless are the bedrock of our society. Local artists, for example, may have their work celebrated in a gallery, but rarely do they get publicly uplifted. “Let’s tell their story,” says Walsh, “Let’s make monuments to those people.”
At Strathmore, Monuments pays tribute to six artists whose work is changing the shape of our community in fundamental and essential ways. “A ‘Force of Nature’ can change the shape of the world,” says Brown. “We celebrate artists who improve and transform the world around them through artistic and community endeavors.” The featured artists were chosen through a nomination and selection process in which a diverse panel of community and arts leaders evaluated artists’ work as a contribution to transformation, unity, equity, and social imperatives within the community. Their portraits are monumentalized as video projections created by Walsh. Through the installation, visitors get to know the artists as humans first and foremost, preceding the art and achievements that have shaken the ground beneath them.
RECONNECTING WITH OUR SPACES
“How does the environment relate to the human condition?” This is a question that Walsh asked himself early on in the process of developing Monuments, which premiered in 2014 at Australia’s White Night Festival. It sparked a traveling installation, temporarily monumentalizing the unsung heroes of communities around the world. “All my work is temporal,” notes Walsh, “and part of the objective of making it temporal is to avoid the politics defining public work and public spaces.” This temporality, combined with Walsh’s dedication to site-responsive work, makes the installation completely unique to each community that it’s built in during a specific moment in time.
Though Monuments has been years in the making, it is particularly resonant within our current cultural and historical moment. “By projecting these portraits . . . we can learn a lot about our relationship to [public] spaces,” says Walsh. This is a relationship that has changed quite markedly over the last several months, during which public spaces have been altered or even shut down to prevent the spread of disease. Strathmore’s campus has been one such space, and Monuments is a significant step in reimagining how the nonprofit arts venue can continue to pursue the mission of creating dynamic arts experiences that cultivate connections within the community. Walsh remarks on the fact that Monuments may be an ideal arts experience for this time, saying that “In a big public space, you can [physically distance] quite easily.” The nature of the installation is also such that “you can be in different parts of the space and have different experiences,” allowing visitors to move about the venue while engaging with the art in an ideal way.
“This moment has taken us back to some important basics—among them, time with loved ones, time in nature, and artistic sources of individual inspiration,” Brown says. “As we navigate this time, we want Strathmore’s campus to be a place of healing and inspiration.” Through Monuments, not only will the Strathmore campus become a space for safe connection between members of our community, but also a space for the veneration of community itself, and the essential role of art within it.
MEET THE MONUMENTS
DARYL DAVIS, Piano Peace Maker
Davis is a great musician; he’s performed with Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and B.B. King. While that’s enough to be a highlight of anyone’s life, it’s Davis’ work as a race reconciliator that makes him a force of nature.
MARJAN NADERI, Powerful Poet
Naderi, 2020 DC Youth Poet Laureate, is a Muslim Afghan American author, performer, and educator. What makes Naderi a force of nature is how she elevates the voices of Afghan American women through her art.
YOKO K. SEN, Sound Alchemist
Sen is an ambient electronic musician with a mission to transform the sound environment in hospitals. Sen straddles the worlds of art and health, but it’s how she brings these seemingly disparate areas together that makes her a force of nature.
TERRON COOPER SORRELLS, History Re-visionary
While the horrors and atrocities of slavery are well documented, what makes painter and printmaker Sorrells a force of nature is how his work shines a light on the resilience and perseverance of people desperately determined to be free.
BE STEADWELL, Be Yourself
This musician, filmmaker, and storyteller strives to make other black girls, queers, and introverts feel seen and loved. Steadwell’s unapologetically queer identity and bold, uncensored exploration of complex intimate relationships make her a force of nature.
C. BRIAN WILLIAMS, Cultural Pathfinder
What makes Williams, founder of Step Afrika!, a force of nature is how he remains authentic in honoring the history of the African American tradition of stepping while pushing the boundaries of the art form through innovative and bold artistic choices.
PANEL DISCUSSION ON OCTOBER 19
Join Strathmore on Zoom for Reimagining Monuments: A Conversation Among Artists led by multimedia artist, educator, and cultural worker Ada Pinkston and featuring Craig Walsh, Daryl Davis, and C. Brian Williams, plus poetry by Marjan Naderi. Learn more and register.
Monuments: Creative Forces is open thru October 25, 2020 at Strathmore. Pay-what-you-can timed tickets can be reserved at www.strathmore.org/monuments. Free tickets are available Sunday–Thursday.