Design proposal by Mickalene Thomas
The city announced last November plans to commission a permanent statue in Brooklyn of Shirley Chisholm, a Bed-Stuy native who became the first black woman to serve in the House of Representatives. On Wednesday, the Department of Cultural Affairs unveiled five finalist design proposals and asked the public for feedback. An artist will be selected next month, with the monument, which will be placed outside of the Parkside entrance to Prospect Park, completed at the end of next year. The statue of Chisholm will be the first monument constructed under the city’s She Built NYC! initiative, which aims to increase the number of public monuments dedicated to NYC women. Currently, just five of the city’s 150 statues are of women.
First lady Chirlane McCray and Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who lead the initiative, announced last month plans to honor four more women: Billie Holiday, Elizabeth Jennings Graham, Dr. Helen Rodríguez Trías, and Katherine Walker. All five new statues will be placed across the five boroughs.
Artist Mickalene Thomas was inspired by Chisholm’s famous quote, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” In the proposal submitted by Thomas, Chisholm will be seated on a car, which “not only captures a moment in time, but it also emphasizes the social relationships of the community.” The sculpture depicts the trailblazer seated instead of standing at a podium to “show her rooted in the peoples’ space and speaking to their truths.”
Tanda Francis’ idea involves creating a trail with inspiring Chisholm quotes to lead from the Ocean Avenue entrance of Prospect Park to a sculpture of the former representative. According to Francis, the trail “tempers visitors to the mindset of this great woman as they approach her monumental bronze representation framed by vertical jets of water and light.”
A design from artist Firelei Báez consists of a series of metal columns that collectively turn into three different portraits of Chisholm, depending on the angle from which its viewed. According to Báez, the three representations incorporate “hand-painted imagery tied to Afrodiasporic narratives,” each representing a different accomplishment of the legislator.
Designed by Amanda Williams and Olalekan Jeyifous, this proposal calls for a monument of Chisholm’s silhouette intertwined with the dome of the U.S. Capitol building. The design is meant to symbolize the institutional barriers the Brooklyn native broke down, as well as the doors Chisholm opened for those who followed in her footsteps. “The trailblazing woman was not diminutive. This monument represents how Chisholm’s collaborative ideals were larger than herself,” the artists said.
Reinterpreting the political leader’s folding-chair quote, artist La Vaughn Belle places Chisholm on a re-envisioned version of the presidential seal, surrounded by chairs. Instead of sitting, she is seen on the move, with a chair in hand, representing a “larger framework of mobility.”
According to the artist: “She challenges us to think about how this petite black woman with a Bajan accent marking her immigrant roots could represent the promise of the United States both literally and symbolically and how her trail—to use her campaign slogan—could ‘bring U.S. together.'”
Provide feedback on the renderings here. Comments from the public will be accepted until Sunday, March 31.
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