New York is apparently moving fast to bridge the gap in the number of public monuments dedicated to men versus women. Last November, the She Built NYC initiative announced its plans to erect its first statue of the political trailblazer Shirley Chisholm and just yesterday, the group unveiled the top five artist proposals in the running for the monument’s design.
Among the all-female finalists are Amanda Williams and Olalekan Jeyifous, Mickalene Thomas, Tanda Francis, La Vaughn Belle, and Firelei Báez. Slated for the Parkside and Ocean Avenue entrance of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, the designs all feature grand visions of Congresswoman Chisholm’s “trailblazing” legacy.
Chisholm is well-known for the now-famous line: “If they don’t give you a seat the table, bring a folding chair.” Belle showcases Chisholm walking ahead of a sea of folding chairs, carrying one in her hand and stepping on what appears to be a symbolic presidential seal. The title of the piece, Chisholm Trail, alludes to her West Indian roots and how she empowered immigrants and people of all backgrounds by leaving a path for further equality in the United States.
Thomas described Chisholm in her proposal as someone who was “deeply in touch with the people” of Brooklyn. Her proposal shows the Congressperson sitting on a parked car, legs crossed as if in casual conversation, instead of at a podium or on a stage as a politician. Creating her figure at human-scale, the artist aimed to place her at eye-level with viewers in order to enhance engagement and encourage a communal atmosphere. “The monument is meant to highlight the fortitude of both Shirley Chisholm and the people she represents,” Thomas wrote in her submission.
Inspired by Chisholm’s life as a civil servant—she was the first-ever woman and African American to seek the Democratic Party’s pick for president in 1971—Williams and Jeyfious envisioned the monument as a nod to Chisholm’s legacy as someone who “left the door open” for others to pursue a place in politics and fight for equality. From one angle, the outline of the statue looks like the U.S. Capitol dome; from another, it’s Chisholm’s profile. According to the artists, this “symbolizes how she disrupted the perception of who has the right to occupy such institutions and to be an embodiment for democracy.”
The Chisholm Trail Memorial by Tanda Francis takes the form of a bold, bronze bust of Chisholm framed by vertical jets of water and light. A towering structure with her face looking upward in hope, the monument will feature a pathway surrounding the statue with Chisholm’s inspiring quotes embedded into the sidewalk.
Báez’s monument centers around a series of 10- to 15-foot hand-painted metal columns. Inspired by the famous monument of Nelson Mandela in Howick, South Africa, the artist has created three portraits of Chisholm that reveal themselves when viewed from different vantage points. Each visage showcases different aspects of her public role and accomplishments. An aerial view of the sculpture reveals that the beams are arranged in the West African symbol of a bird, the Sankofa.
The NYC Department of Cultural Affairs’ Percent for Art program has opened the proposals up for a public commentary period through Sunday, March 31. The winning design will be chosen in early April and is estimated to be built by the end of 2020.