Tara Gupta Dabir | Essays

How Public Art Will Shape The Next Chapter of US History

Image credit: Joey Wharton @joey_wharton; Projection: Dustin Klein @videometry

Last week in Richmond, Virginia, demonstrators toppled the Jefferson Davis statue erected over a century ago along Monument Avenue. Hundreds of people have taken to the streets, demanding these statues come down. Politicians are racing to mitigate conflict between the police and protestors. And night after night, my hometown grapples with their painful history as the former capital of the Confederacy.

But we’ve also seen something else. We’ve seen more action dictating the fate of landmarked Confederate statues since the demonstrations began than we have in the past decade. As a result, people are flooding Monument Avenue’s manicured, pristine grounds to bear witness. Families are parking their grills in front of the monuments, observing Sunday praise and worship services. Children are gleefully running, playing. The graffiti calling for unity and change now blankets the old inscriptions. Generations of Richmonders grew up in the shadow of these statues, myself included. But now, under graffiti and surrounded by the people, they tell a fuller story. One that reflects what Richmond became since the Civil War, a diverse city brimming with talented artists, activists, restaurateurs, small businesses owners, and changemakers paving the way.

Image credit: Landon Schroder @radio_tokyo @rvamag; Projection: Dustin Klein @videometry

As events have continued to unfold around the statues, artist Dustin Klein joined the crowds, setting up his projector with another vision for how they could be interpreted. He began projecting images of civil rights leaders and women that have died at the hands of police over these monuments— a call for charges in Breonna Taylor’s senseless death. This past weekend, a bright, bold rainbow in honor of Pride overlaid Confederate General Robert E. Lee. These projections over the statues allow us to reconsider how the world has been shaped by these monuments. They were erected to promote segregation, this is no secret. Yet public art is pushing us to begin redefining the role of spaces like Monument Avenue and what they could be. These acts of defiance symbolize the start of something bigger, a broader movement to reclaim spaces originally designed to incite fear.

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Richmond, Va • One of the most visually stunning acts of resistance has been the projections on the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee honoring the victims of police violence • “I just walked up with the gear and set it up...The goal was to create a visible memorial for victims of police brutality and help us see the statue in a different light,” said Dustin Klein. “The protests on the previous weekend destroyed the uplighting of the statue making the projections possible...although historical, the statue is a negative reminder of pain and violence in our history for the majority of the residents in our city.” • Black Lives Matter • Justice for George Floyd • This video and instillation was created by @videometry �-�️�-�️�-�️�-�️ • • • #blacklivesmatter #blm #justiceforgeorgefloyd #policebrutality #policeaccountability #saytheirnames #visualinstallation #visualmedia #visualart #rvauprising #rvaartist #richmondva #tearthemdown #virginia #rva #rvaphotographergrapher #acab #fuck12

A post shared by RVA Magazine (@rvamag) on Jun 7, 2020 at 6:51pm PDT

Projection & Video for Breonna Taylor: Dustin Klein

In our nation’s capital Sixteenth Street now glows, the Black Lives Matter mural illuminated in front of the White House. And many other cities are following suit. Designers, urban planners, artists and other creatives must continue this work across the country, to reclaim these spaces as champions of inclusivity. We must protect and create community gathering places that bring everyone in and build them up. Monument Avenue’s story began with these statues but their removal will mark a fresh, new beginning.

Image credit: Lauren Serpa @laurenserpaphotographs; Projection: Dustin Klein @videometry

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