Socrates Sculpture Park: Monuments and American Values

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The American People…

We live in a moment of ever unfolding, necessary racial uprisings. The previous year has highlighted to a majority of the country that American values must be reconsidered. The question of “We the People” is in constant flux. Too many “American” lives are expendable: African Americans, immigrants, indigenous communities and more.

The current COVID-19 pandemic furthers inequalities faced by these groups today. Hispanics and Blacks continue to suffer at a disproportionate rate. How can we come to terms with these inequities? To what extent can art serve a purpose in bringing to light these all too often hidden narratives and voices? 

Socrates Sculpture Park: The Site of Questioned Values 

Socrates Sculpture Park is a free admissions New York City public sculpture park located in Long Island City, Queens. With its consistently updated exhibits, the park has enabled communities of all backgrounds to benefit from the power of unapologetic creation. The Park has also held dozens of festivals and educational outreach programs to local public schools. 

In accordance with COVID-19 protocols, all of their talks and screenings are being held virtually. However, there are sculptures currently on display and available to those who abide by the Park’s rules. MONUMENTS NOW is the Park’s most recent exhibition. The arrangement of mixed media works is on display now through March 2021. 

Highlighted Works

MONUMENTS NOW aims to address the most pertinent issues of identity. Queer, indigenous and African American voices are employed. Critically acclaimed artists of color, like Jeffrey Gibson, Paul Ramírez Jonas and Xaviera Simmons, lead the line up. This three part exhibit brings to light the influence of monuments on space and society. 

Gibson’s Because Once You Enter My House, It Becomes Our House pays homage to indigenous Mississippian architecture. Gibson presents a “multi-tiered monument with a plywood structure adorned with a vibrant surface of wheat-pasted posters.” The structure is meant to depict a future society, whilst referencing the 13th century indigenous city of Cahokia. 

Simmons’  The structure the labor the foundation the escape the pause explores the failure of systemic promises by the American government to African American communities. The trio of sculptures features “massive steel abstract forms with landscapes of text culled from historical documents that are foundational to centuries of racial caste construction, white supremacy and disenfranchisement in the United States.” This is an especially poignant piece in light of the protests of Summer 2020. 

Finally, Ramírez Jonas’ Eternal Flame consists of five bbq grills, matches, steel, wood, concrete and smoke. The piece is installed as a communal grilling station to be literally used by park visitors. In its communal nature, Jonas aims to “honor the role of cuisine and cooking in cultural cohesion and expression among communities and identities…”

The unifying thread of these pieces is their focus on dialogue creation. For how can we move forward without the right conversations? 

American history of denied African American rights
Source: https://socratessculpturepark.org/monuments-now/
Americans versus communal food culture and creation.
Source: https://socratessculpturepark.org/artist/paul-ramirez-jonas/
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Socrates Sculpture Park: Monuments and American Values