Absence is not abstract. It is felt and perceived. Absence implicates all of us inasmuch as it confounds the very writing of our stories. To see absence is to have our limits revealed, not as if in a mirror, but in a manner that shows that we are entangled with distant tethers that keep our bodies, our histories, in check. Absence, when made visible, is not observed immediately. It takes time. The April 26 opening of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, is perhaps one such catalyst for the effacement of the visitor with respect to the racial terror that led to the loss of thousands of lives through lynching. Lynching victims who were burned alive, hanged, shot—murdered—in and along the towns and byways of our nation from 1877 until 1950, are documented in this memorial initiated by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). Such violence continues today in the form of excessive imprisonment; by the murders of black women and men by the police; by the enforcement of state-sanctioned economic violence. By crafting spaces in which the subtractive is both a tool and a frame, the design of this memorial signals the recuperative agency of building as a means to affect the erasable and irascible conditions that established and purvey hatred, fear, and ignorance in this country. Here, looking away is not conscionable, as it moves against the habitus of memory, where our own individual pasts intersect with the Past. That the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum are realized in this, the 50th anniversary of the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, is indeed an extraordinary feat indebted to the efforts of many individuals that came before. However, I would be remiss in not reminding readers that in recent reportage, including The New York Times and Rolling Stone, there is scant mention of the architects. During the spectacle of the opening ceremony, EJI’s Executive Director, Bryan Stevenson, acknowledged builders, contractors, laborers, and “local” architects—but did not name the project architects, MASS Design Group. Only on the EJI website can we find mention that the Initiative had the “assistance” of MASS Design Group. It feels purposeful, and we are thus left to speculate. I am left wondering: Are architects supposed to fade away in the fashioning of a memorial? I can think of recent examples for which this is clearly not the case. What has been wrought in other locations, including Washington, D.C., Berlin, Johannesburg, New York City, and Birmingham, all speak through their authors. And, in varying degrees, formal aspects of each of these memorial spaces are present now in Montgomery. Memorials render ghosts. And Boston-based MASS Design’s work with the EJI on the design and building of this structure is no less haunted by the iniquities of American history. With distant views of limpid hills and a semiformal state capitol town center with its empty shops, deserted lots, 59 Confederate markers, and recent loft conversions, the Memorial for Peace and Justice is adjacent, without irony, to the storefront of the State of Alabama Office of Pardons and Paroles Day Reporting Center. From the street below, the memorial structure is partially indiscernible due to its horizontal profile cutting across the sightline, but it may also be read as an empty pedestal through and on which the lives of so many passed, passed away, disappeared. One climbs farther up the hill alongside a boundary wall upon which a series of chronological narratives is posted to convey the story of “Why here?” and “Why now?” The manifestations of slavery, of incipient racism that persist today, are described as a backdrop to an unfolding of both landscape and architecture as marked sites for unceasing brutality. We are soon confronted by a bronze sculpture of humans in chains by Kwame Akoto-Bamfo. The signs begin too high to be read easily and meet our eyes as we climb the hill. A sharp corner, and one rises again to the structure while unfortunately overlooking the conclusion of the memorial space one floor below. There is no fixed entrance, per se, except a momentary pause with a large fire extinguisher. Stepping onto a timber floor, one is immediately surrounded by a dense array of body-size steel casks hung from pipes that disappear into a paneled metal ceiling. One moves cautiously through a grid of “bleeding” Corten steel containers, each incised with the name of the county and names accompanied by dates, including those unknown, of the lynched. The floor gradually descends as the casks remain above our heads; their intact volumes remain whole. By moving downward, one returns into the ground. The horizon has been excised. Gravity is idle. A series of narratives printed on thin metal strips is hung in a similar manner to the initial chronologies, describing in the briefest of ways the events of individual lynchings. The blunt quotidian language, their facticity, arrests our movements. At the next corner, one is presented with two very large indictments. A cascade of water pushes across the adjacent wall, merging with, not obscuring, an extended text. The temperature changes. Two choices are apparent: Climb a ramp or stair into the center of the quadrangle or leave. The empty center, while perhaps disguised as a space of confrontation, is more like a cloister in which condemnation is subdued, internalized; here it is possible to see across through the casks while observing others. It is not a sanctum. Greeting one’s unceremonial departure from the memorial upon moving outside, another sliver of text is located across from the pipes and pumps of the interior waterfall. This is not as much a “door of no return,” as merely a way out. This non-exit merges with an unmarked landscape of horizontal metal casks, akin to those held inside the structure—a topology of loss. Despite being worrisome for those who might wish to touch one of the steel containers after a hot day, one walks between their seemingly geographic order(s) locating states and counties, and names. Farther on, a series of bronzes by Dana King, depicting Rosa Parks and her heroic companions leading the Montgomery Bus Boycott, intersects the path. A small circular garden of mushroom-like concrete stools is sited nearby and is unlike anything seen elsewhere, with no explanation as to its role. One moves across on pathways above, around, and below another bronze, this one by Hank Willis Thomas, spelling bodies of containment, of stability falling away. With the building of such thresholds for historical reckoning, the arc of our knowing also asserts unknowing; absence lingers. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum attest to our own entanglements with reconciliation and truth. Memorials, like museums, are structures that attempt to keep us in their grasp as long as possible, allowing for the disclosure of our interior selves with multiple worlds. Such “new worlds” are partially uncovered at the intersection of reflection and remembrance, yet allow for and point to the rupture of what our passages have been and continue to be.
Posts tagged with "Memorial Museum":
On April 26, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the first memorial in the U.S. dedicated to African American victims of lynching and continued discrimination, will open to the public in Montgomery, Alabama. The memorial, designed by Boston-based MASS Design Group, will open in tandem alongside The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, also located in Montgomery, which will chart the history of African American segregation from slavery to the present day. Both projects stem from the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a nonprofit group that works to right racial injustices, advocates for those in racially or economically segregated communities, and provides legal representation for the illegally arrested or abused. The memorial itself, located in the middle of six acres of hilltop in Montgomery, is a square-shaped, open-air pavilion dedicated to the more than 4,400 victims of lynching in America. Their names are inscribed across over 800 six-foot-tall, rectangular columns wrapped in Corten steel and hung from the ceiling of the memorial. Each of the columns represents a county where the lynchings listed took place, and replicas of each are located outside of the pavilion for their respective counties to come and claim; the columns left behind are meant to be a public reminder of which county has failed to engage with the memorial. Visitors just outside of the pavilion’s entrance will be confronted by a sculpture from Ghanian artist Kwame Akoto-Bamfo of a mother in chains, crying out while cradling a baby under her arm. A sculpture by Dana King dedicated to the women who kept the Montgomery Bus Boycott alive will also be located near the “town square” memorial. “Our nation’s history of racial injustice casts a shadow across the American landscape,” said EJI Director Bryan Stevenson. “This shadow cannot be lifted until we shine the light of truth on the destructive violence that shaped our nation, traumatized people of color, and compromised our commitment to the rule of law and to equal justice.” The Legacy Museum is only a 15-minute walk from the memorial, and the two-story, 11,000-square-foot brick building sits on a site that had historically been used to warehouse slaves. Inside, the museum will use videos, photography, and research materials to introduce visitors to first-hand accounts of the domestic slave trade. From there, sculptures from Titus Kaphar and Sanford Biggers, among other mixed-media works and photographs, will paint a portrait of life under enforced segregation in the Jim Crow South. Through a range of mediums including animation and paintings, the museum hopes to create a full timeline of racial segregation in America. According to the EJI, design and artistic partners for the museum also include Local Projects, Tim Lewis and TALA, Molly Crabapple, Orchid Création, Stink Studios, Human Pictures, HBO, and Google. The April 26 opening ceremony will be followed by several days of panels, presentations, and concerts at the museum.
The Allied Works Architecture-designed National Veterans Memorial & Museum (NVMM) is rapidly rising on the shore of the Scioto River in downtown Columbus, Ohio, and is on track to open in July 2018. Allied Works’s design for the two-story, 53,000-square-foot memorial museum, a circular building with a glass curtain wall ensconced in a spiraling concrete superstructure, is the result of a closed 2013 design competition that included David Chipperfield and Diller Scofidio + Renfro. The winning scheme includes a ramp that wraps around the edge of the building and up to a rooftop “sanctuary” plaza, while large concrete arches crisscrosses the museum’s exterior to symbolically elevate the sanctuary. The sanctuary will be exclusively for ceremonies, events, and reflection, and from renderings, it looks like the rooftop plaza will include amphitheater seating and look out into museum’s exhibition space. Inside, the museum’s programming will similarly follow the building’s curves, with exhibition galleries arranged in a ring. A double-height great hall will greet visitors at the entrance, while two floors of permanent exhibition space will be arranged in a central ring and provide access to the sanctuary from inside. “Thematic alcoves” will be scattered throughout the museum, each meant to evoke a specific emotion and relay the challenges faced by veterans. Landscape architect OLIN will be handling the surrounding greenery and have designed a memorial grove in the middle of a circular path near the museum. The grove will also contain a stone wall with a reflecting pool at the base. The museum’s development, design, and construction were led by the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation (CDDC). The group is also managing the exhibition curation, as well as raising approximately $80 million for the project. The NVMM, which claims to be the first national veterans museum, has set its sights on being part museum and part memorial, with veteran narratives being placed front and center. With only 1 percent of the population currently serving in the military, the museum's mission is to expose guests, who may not personally know a veteran, to the stories of servicemen and women, while also stimulating conversations around what it means to serve. While originally planned as the Ohio Veteran’s Museum, the scope was drastically expanded to include the stories of veterans from across the country, and from every branch and conflict. In November 2017, the House passed a bill officially designating the museum a national site, capping a years-long push by the NVMM for federal recognition.
With our office just two blocks up from Ground Zero, we are feeling the exhilaration and pride right up to our 5th floor windows. And when we saw NBC’s Matt Lauer at the corner Starbucks preparing for a ‘live from’ segment, we didn’t hesitate to buttonhole the guy and give him our latest timely issue—online today!—featuring a complete rundown on the Memorial Museum, along with some first views of the underground construction site that is taking shape as a museum as large as almost any in the city—with the potency of history.
It's been a couple of weeks since we stopped by the WTC site. The most striking aspect from the street remains the speed with which glass surfaces begin to rise. It seems like only yesterday that three stories of glass wrapped around Tower One. Now with ten stories completed, the quartz-like surfaces start to take shape. At the Memorial Museum, Snohetta's glass has flown up in what seems a matter of days. The facade already reflects the grove, whose trees continue their own march toward West Street.