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Artist Ada Pinkston Asks 'What Would A Monument To All People Look Like?'

From a performance in Baltimore, Maryland, in July 2018. (Photo by Chris Chapa)
From a performance in Baltimore, Maryland, in July 2018. (Photo by Chris Chapa)

In 2016, artist Ada Pinkston started asking people to share their thoughts on what monuments should look like in the future

To survey the public, she used a micro-grant of $700 to facilitate two workshops near the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore to start. Since starting her project “Landmarked,” she’s received more than 300 responses from people in Baltimore, Washington D.C. and Dallas.

“It’s kind of something that people pass by and ignore and don’t really look at that often,” says Pinkston, a professor at Towson University and 2020 fellow with the Philadelphia-based public art studio Monument Lab.

Now, as Confederate statues come down across the southern U.S., Pinkston is reimagining the spaces where these monuments once stood.

Many people who responded to her project say future monuments should include a technology element, which aligns with the historical desire for cutting-edge architecture, she says.

In Richmond, Virginia, last week on Monument Avenue, a hologram of George Floyd was transposed over a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee as part of a project called “A Monumental Change: The George Floyd Hologram Memorial Project.”

While some people think technology should play a role in new monuments, others want to take a more familiar approach. With so many figurative statues of white men standing throughout the U.S., some folks want to see more figurative statues of women and people of color, she says.

“But I think you can’t dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools,” she says. “So when we’re thinking about the concept of creating counter-narratives, I don’t think it makes sense to think about another static object in the place of [Confederate monuments].”

Monuments help people think about the past in a meaningful way and “meditate on a moment in time,” she says.

When four Confederate monuments were removed in Baltimore in 2017, the city formed task forces and held meetings to decide what public art should fill the space. But no one could come to an agreement, she says.

A monument for everyone will always exclude some people. Society changes over time, she says, but monuments historically don’t.

So Pinkston developed a sketch for a changing, crowdsourced monument. Though it would take a lot of funding and complex engineering, she dreams of a 3D-printed monument that the public interacts with.

The public would vote on the concept and design of the monument, made of filament that could melt each year. Anyone could submit a design, she says.

Pinkston also does performance art in spaces where Confederate statues once stood.

In one, Pinkston plays audio of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer describing getting asked to pick cotton as a child. She stands on an outdoor pedestal in an Antebellum hoop skirt with a veil on her head, moving like a statue coming to life.

Monuments exist within us — the stories of our grandmothers and great, great, great grandmothers that exist in griot traditions — and people need to consider how to keep these narratives alive, she says.

“All of these public performances and interventions are an example of embodied monuments,” she says. “And I literally am thinking about the ritual of connecting the past and the present.”

Seeing a performer dance in place of a statue intervenes in a person’s normal experience in a public space, she says, which creates a moment of reflection to reconsider its possibilities.

Many may think of Pinkston’s work as performance art, but it’s also in the tradition of Black people: sharing living, moving stories, unlike monuments that stay in one place. Her work encourages people to reimagine the idea of monuments by thinking about the ways people live and pass down history, whether it’s orally or through performance art.

Before she started her monument project, Pinkston spent a month in Mississippi because her grandmother was sick. Visiting the state as an adult, she recognized that the architecture of the Confederate monuments was “pristine,” while the infrastructure of the surrounding city wasn’t as well-kept.

“I don’t really think we can remember the past through recreating this static understanding of history because there is no way,” she says. “It’s impossible.”

Lynn Menegon produced this interview and edited it for broadcast with Tinku RayAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

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