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tv   Debate Over Public Monuments  CSPAN  August 8, 2022 6:00am-6:51am EDT

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i'm wendy nalani ek moto senior curator of american art at the new york historical society and it is my pleasure to welcome you to tonight's curator confidential i am eager to speak with you about our current exhibition monuments commemoration and controversy. but before we begin i would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to our trustees our chairman's council and all of our members and other generous
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donors. it is your support that allows the new york historical society to pursue its mission to make history matter and for that we are most thankful. we are currently open from wednesday's through sundays. we would love to see you at the museum and we invite you to reserve your time. entry tickets on our website tonight's program will last approximately 45 minutes and that includes about 15 minutes at the end for questions and answers at any point during the presentation. please feel free to submit your questions via the queue and a function on your zoom screen. we will attempt to get to as many questions as possible at the end of the presentation and just do be sure to use the q&a button as we have disabled the chat. and now i will share my slides.
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monuments are very much in the air these days sometimes quite literally as you can see in our title graphic for the exhibition featuring the monument to john c calhoun lifted from its pedestal in charleston, south carolina in 2020. and in our own immediate neighborhood in new york city, you might think of the theodore roosevelt monument recently removed from the steps of the american museum of natural history or earlier actually just before this exhibition opened and it is being moved to the new theodore roosevelt presidential library in north dakota, which is set to open in 2026. there is also the statue of jay marion sims who in his
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gynecological research operated on black women without their consent and without anesthesia that monument was moved from central park on east 103rd street and is now located in greenwood cemetery in brooklyn where sims is buried and then there's the thomas jefferson monument remove from new york city hall and now on long-term loan to us at the new york historical society. it was installed in our lobby just last week. there has been a lot of justifiably heated debate over these and other monuments and the aim of this exhibition is to provide a space to think critically and to think contextually about this very difficult subject and more specifically to show that these
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controversies which feel so of the moment. in fact have a very long history that dates back to the founding of our nation. that's why we begin with this vandalized 18th century monument to william pitt, which you see on the left hand side of this installation shot set against photographs of monuments and contemporary protests against them the point of this juxtaposition is really to immediately draw that connection between past and present controversies and also to give those controversies the weight of history the pit statue originally stood at the intersection of william and wall streets in lower manhattan. it had been installed by colonists in honor of the english statesman who had helped them repeal the stamp act saying in his a famous speech to
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parliament in 1766 that i rejoice that america has resisted as one person expressed their gratitude in verse i think the pit for all thy glorious strife against the foes of liberty and life. so here was this proud monument to a supporter of the colonists, but then the british took possession of new york city during the revolutionary war and from their perspective in the heat of battle between the empire and her colonies the monument read differently here was a statue of someone who had stir the colonists to revolution. so while no one knows for sure precisely who damaged this sculpture. it was almost certainly british soldiers. they beheaded the statue and broke off its arms divesting pit of the very tools of what he was
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most famous for his oratory his capacity for speech and gesture. this was a very pointed desecration. so this statute introduces the exhibition out signed the gallery and then inside the gallery we feature a series of what i'm calling vignettes. each of these vignettes is centered around a small scale version of a specific monument and they move through history around the gallery from the nation's founding to the present day. so i thought i would you through these vignettes. we began with this one centered around a all scale recreation of a monument to king george the third that was once installed in bowling green in lower manhattan. the original monument was dedicated in 1770 and if you know bowling green, you know that this monument is no longer there. what happened?
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is that on july 9th 1776 new york colonists and continental soldiers gathered in what is now a city hall park. and they listened to a public reading of the freshly written declaration of independence, which was a document outlining 26 indictments listing the repeated injuries and user patients of a king unfit to be the ruler of a free people who unleashed tyranny over these states the crowd heard the indictments and the people became impassioned and they grew emboldened and in a wave of revolutionary forward they marched down broadway to bowling green with their sights set on the monument to the king and imposing statue weighing 4,000 pounds guilt to reflect the sun elevated on a marble pedestal 18 feet off the ground and showing
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king george presiding in his classical robes and laurel crown like an emperor over the colony. and so as johannes hurdle pictures here the colonists tore down the monument and the tyranny it represented. this was an act of symbolic overthrow. they pulled the statue from its pedestal. they chopped off the head. they shot the head with a musket they intended to set it on a spike near fort washington like that of a common criminal they smashed the rest of the statue into pieces. they scraped off the the gilding
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from the lead and then they carted those remaining lead pieces off to connecticut to be made into bullets precisely 42,000 and 88 of them to be used by the continental army the new york postmaster described these bullets as melted majesty. that would be fired at the king's own troops. you can see this transformation of the monument into musket balls in our display where we place a small scale recreation
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of the statue next to one of the surviving fragments of the original sculpture. the horse's tail and a set of bullets excavated from a revolutionary war barracks. the question that this vignette evokes is one that is constantly being posed today in our current culture wars is removing monuments a means of making history or erasing history on the one hand. you have a removal that harkins back to the ancient roman process of demaccio memorial or condemnation of memory. this is a scrubbing of people from history. it included the destruction of images and the removal of names in an effort to erase all public traces of the dishonored person and expunge them from the public record. is an effort resonant perhaps today with our so-called canceled culture? on the other hand the destruction of this symbol of monarchical rule was both foundational two and expressive of the making by the people of a new and democratic nation and by demolishing the monument effectively, the colonists were creating a new monument. they left the empty marble pedestal up. for over 40 years in bowling
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green and it stood there as a as a reminder of the revolution and of their hard one liberation. so we've just looked at the nation's founding in the first vignette. and the next vignette is about remembering that this nation was founded upon someone else's land as a settler colonial state. it centers on a statuette by john quincy adams ward, you might recognize the statuette from its larger than life-size version that stands in central park at the south and of the mall. is an elegant sculpture it contains these gorgeous textural contrast that you can see here between the two sides of the hide and the figure is posture evokes that of the ancient greek sculpture the borghese gladiator. it's defined by this strong diagonal and long stride.
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but this celebration of a young and free roaming indigenous hunter was completely at odds with the reality of the indigenous situation in the mid 19th century when the united states was brutally subjugating indigenous people through violence forced assimilation and land displacement and that's really the purpose of the larger vignette to contextualize and complicate the statue wards romanticized hunter is set against a map of the us reservation system. and in conversation with a painting of the new england pilgrims who appear in this installation to be walking across the continent to be walking across the map armed with rifles and bibles in pursuit of their manifest destiny to settle this land.
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and the framing the entire vignette are the words of the indigenous poet laverne white bear who's searing verse directly addresses the pilgrims her poem speaks of the invasion of the dakota homelands as well as to the pilgrims oppression of indigenous peoples following their own escape from oppression and the title savages is meant to upend that racist slur to honor a people who have been forced to fight for their lives. here is laverne white bear reading her poem. here here is a dakota sun who bears a white man's face. and there there are their men women and children. from where did you come? escaping. were you?
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did you steal respect and honor to? even our children cast in stone. you stole their stories and made them your own. porcelain beauties high children beneath falls of wool sucking their lips to hasten their will is that fear upon your face? did you not covet this sacred place? the land where children of the stars live the place where time began. she she is their mother in a macaw. they respect and honor her none other. who do you fear the savages? oh, yes, it's true. remain afraid i say for ignorance requires. no skill. as you scurry along the trail making your prayers without fail. ask yourself this who should you
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fear in the lakes beautiful mirror? and do they look like you? i personally find the shift from who do you fear to who should you fear? i'm quite thought-provoking. the third vignette is a group of objects that continues this theme of nation and race and to some extent immigration. it explores the statue of liberty and the significance of this grouping really rests on the tension between these two juxtaposed hands. one of the hands is a large-scale reproduction of a drawing of the statue of liberty's torch-bearing arm when it went on display in philadelphia before it came here to madison square park, and the other is a contemporary cain featuring a black hand emerging
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from the image of a supplicant enslaved person and breaking its own chain. this juxtaposition is meant to call attention to the gap between the ideals upheld by this iconic monument to liberty and lived reality of many americans at the time of its conception in the late 19th century today, of course, the statue of liberty is understood as a monument to immigration, but this is a relatively new association crafted in the early 20th century. the statue was originally conceived of by a french abolitionist in the wake of the us civil war to honor the triumph of enlightenment ideals in the united states particularly as they were realized in union victory and in the abolition of slavery an
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early model by the sculpture, which you see on the right in fact shows lady liberty holding in her hand. not a tablet but a broken shackle symbolic of emancipation. the final version of the statue does still incorporate chains, which actually sliced through by the head of an ax but they lie at lady. liberty's feet tucked mostly beneath her robes where they are hardly visible except from a helicopter. the fact of the matter is that the statue hesitated to embrace the most radical potential of freedom in the wake of the civil war namely racial freedom. imagine if lady liberty were black. imagine how galvanizing that would have been when the statue was unveiled in 1886 by which
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time jim crow was seizing the nation crushing the gains of reconstruction through the legalization and segregate of segregation and brutal violence towards black americans ultimately this monument retreated from race when the acclaimed civil rights activist w e b dubois sailed into new york harbor in 1894 only eight years after the statues unveiling he described the monument as having its back to america. and the incisiveness of this description comes across very clearly when you understand that du bois had been sailing on a segregated ship. that same disjunction between reality and the ideals espoused by the monument is expressed in the vignettes framing poem.
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it's called fettered liberty. it's by esther a yates and it was published in the official magazine of the naacp in 1916. here's the excerpt that we display in the exhibition and this is freedom. this is liberty the place we're just as rains home of the brave and free look trace the deepened furrows of civility upon a burdened race. and even if we consider the statue of liberty as a monument to immigration note that in 1882 only four years before the statue was unveiled the united states issued the chinese exclusion act this racially based anti-immigration law was in full effect in 1903 when that famous poem by emma lazarus. give me your tired your poor your huddled masses yearning to
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be free was emblazoned on the statues pedestal. the fourth vignette moves us on to the final wall of the exhibition and into the 20th century. it is about about a monument by augusta savage someone who is little known today, but who in her time was a true mover and shaker of the harlem renaissance. she was a remarkable woman born in 1892 in the jim crow south to parents who had been born into slavery. she moved to new york to study art. she opened her own art school, which one visitor described poetically as a sanctuary of industry and dreams. she founded and directed one of the largest wpa art centers and she became the first black woman to open her own gallery. this is a souvenir reproduction of her signature work a
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commission for the 1939, new york world's fair. it was the only commission at the fair from a black woman artist life magazine in fact described savage as one of few black people commissioned by the world's fair to do anything, but quote pick and shovel work. the piece was inspired by the song lift every voice and sing which had been declared the black national anthem by the naacp in 1919. here is a short clip of the song as performed by the harlem boys choir. here regardless ;?
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savages sculpture becomes i think a visual manifestation of that song's power. it features 12 young black singers in graduated heights taking the form of a harp. they're pressed together in community and in solidarity they're singing in surround sound with their heads turned in alternate directions the folds of their prior robes become the strings of the instrument the kneeling man at the front forms the foot pedal and the sounding board has generally been understood to represent the hand and arm of god picking up on the
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religiosity of lift every voice and sing particularly the third verse and transforming these 12 young singers into the instruments of god. i have come recently however to increasing really wonder whether given savages own foundational role in the harlem renaissance this could represent her hand as well. this is someone after all who made tremendous efforts to create an infrastructure through her schools through her gallery to lift others in her community up. savages original sculpture was a soaring 16 feet tall. it was the largest work that she ever made you can get. some sense of the scale here in this photograph of the artist at work in her studio the final sculpture was placed at a prominent entrance to the fair and it was seen by millions of
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visitors. but at the end of the fair it was smashed by bulldozers because savage lacked the funds to preserve it. and that's why it survives only in the form of souvenir replicas like the one in the exhibition. it was not i should note uncommon for world's fair objects to be demolished many of them were never meant to last but for savage this was part of a larger pattern in her career. she worked always against adverse socio-economic conditions as a black woman during jim crow who had struggled through poverty since childhood and only half of her documented work survives. and so the main point of this vignette is really to raise the question. what have we lost or if you phrase it differently.
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what who what and who's what work and whose work do we choose to preserve? i think it's easy to think of monuments as static and fixed, but they are not they require upkeep they require care and they require funding in a symposium hosted by the new york historical society in 2020. brent legs who serves as executive director of the african-american cultural heritage action fund noted that we need the same stewardship level for the contributions of african-americans as for others. we need public and private investment in black cultural heritage if we value that he said said then we value black lives. next we have a group of works by
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three contemporary black sculptors bearing witness to suppressed histories. the point of this vignette is to raise questions about whose stories are preserved and celebrated in the historical record and to demonstrate the ways that new monuments can
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change history the ways that they can redirect how and what we remember for context. you'll notice the small group of objects toward the left of this installation shot. these are included as a group of
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works to provide a sense of what these contemporary artists are working against it is anchored by this career and ives print showing a hotly contested monument called the emancipation memorial by thomas ball in washington, dc. while this sculpture was proposed and funded by free people of color. the composition was determined by the white artist thomas ball and an all-white committee and
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it reads problematically. there is a very clear hierarchy conveyed the sculpture portrays this shirtless kneeling black man pleading for freedom from lincoln who towers above him fully clothed with his arm raised as if in benediction, allison sarr's work is a direct contradiction to monuments like the emancipation memorial it is
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not about white saviorism. it is about black agency. you are looking at a maquette or model for sars monument to the black abolitionist harriet tubman as you can see tubman appears as the underground railroad she strides forward with the force of a locomotive. she's pulling up roots from the ground behind her in a gesture that seems to refer to her work uprooting the institution of slavery her petticoat forms the front great of the train and on her skirt ride all of those she helped to escape from bondage. full-sized version of the work stands in harlem on west 120 second street, and when it was installed there in 2008 it became the very first public monument to an african-american woman new york city. next to this work stands a maquette for a monument to sojourner truth who was born into slavery here in new york and escaped to freedom in 1826 to become a prominent abolitionist preacher and women's rights activists delivering her famous. ain't i a woman's speech in akron, ohio in 1851 the artist barbara chase rebel depicts truth in an absolutely arresting way. on the one hand you have this emaciated form of a horse which conveys the weariness and long duration of her journey. but this contrasts with the folds of truths cloak which imbue her with dynamism they suggest movement and billowing and they're described in these broken facets that make truth. look almost the equestrian tradition, which has long been reserved for white male leaders shown mounted a stride their seeds and charging forward and what chase your bow does is directly challenge this tradition by inserting into it a black woman who does not command and preside over but instead guides lighting the way forward with her lantern through the of an implied knight. the third mckent in this vignette is by kara walker. it stands apart from those by alison sar and barbara chase rabeau, because it doesn't honor abolition but instead looks at the ongoing legacy of slavery. it's a different type of monument. it doesn't offer a hero. it doesn't offer a narrative of heroism it instead confronts us with continuing trauma. the work is a model for a large
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public sculpture installed in 2018 at alger's point on the banks of the mississippi river in new orleans. we're enslaved people were quarantined before their transfer to slave markets. what happened is that the artist was visiting new orleans and she went to alger's point and she looked for public recognition of the location as a site of slavery and all she found was a cheap bronze plaque one of only two historical markers in the entire city that addressed slave trade and so she decided to pull that buried past back to the surface and raise it up in the form of this monument, which she called the cadisof caravan in haitian creole that title means caravan of catastrophe. as you can see the work took the form of a caravan or wagon each side in blazend with walkers signature silhouettes engaged in
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these nightmarish narratives of violence and subjugation. it's a bit challenging to make out in this photograph, but the long panel closest to us shows an enslaved family including a baby. getting marched across a field by a monstrous amalgam of an overseer wielding a whip and the other long panel shows two captive figures. carrying a dead body slung between them while another figure appears crouched above them in the branches legs spread apart as if about to urinate on the scene. and inside the full-sized wagon was a calliope or steam organ which played music inspired by protest anthems and by african american spirituals. the monument and its music were intended as a direct retort to
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the tourist steamboat called the natchez up river. this was a boat is a boat model after 19th century panel wheel steamers, it offers nostalgic cruises on the mississippi river and it plays songs like god bless america and dixieland so walkers caravan injected the brutality of new orleans slave past back into a landscape of sanitized and tourist friendly and whitewashed his trees a site otherwise wiped clean of the trauma it had witnessed. the walker piece is is framed by the second commissioned poem in the exhibition it is by a brooklyn-based poet of haitian descent named diane xavier and her aim with this verse is really to bring the sound of that full-scale monument back into this silent.
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mckett. the poem is rhythmic. it's percussive you can see in the installation shot on the right how even visually it seems to pick up speed the words and start out space depart and then they gathered together and tumble together down the page you can find in her verse direct descriptions of the silhouettes jarring evocations of attempted escape and pursuit by slave catchers and references to family separation and the poem ends by describing a jet steel remembrance namely this monument of yet another yet another tragedy yet another place of suffering yet. people enslaved when you hear the audio. it doesn't sound as if the poem is finished. it ends with a kind of pause like an auditory m dash that seems to evoke in keeping with walker's monument a continuing the unrelenting effects of this
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catastrophe called slavery here is diane xavier reading her poem song for caravan by diane xavier um me mollusk underfoot heel bone to bone calcium dust sound this time again. salopri convoy boot wingtip part most distant from belly this time sound again. they come in they come in they come in. snarl lick to bark swap mangle
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tongue bills press limbs count hairs diameters of heads muscle promissory note for one's future property. summon captive whisper signal lashes of slender stems bear curly leaves this time sound earth breaks this time empire wheels this time cathedral bell tumbles this time petrol this time wind this sound machine this song hurricane this mother's cat-tied round tree with rope with lash with plant
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without root this time whistle this time nostalgia this time muddy myth this sound amnesia. this cry this stem stem crawling up skirt this lip. this dusted bone. this sound when it smacks. from throat-based howl for kin well syllables for those at point. separated from sound cut water make clear intimacies this jet steel remembrance of yet another. finally in the center of the gallery. we feature an empty pedestal. it's modeled after the 18 foot tall one that new york revolutionaries left in bowling
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green after tearing down its monument king george iii and we invite community engagement with it. we do this in two ways first. we provide an ipad preloaded with an augmented reality app called kinfolk which visitors can use to envision monuments to black and brown heroes including surely chisholm whom you see here as well as frederick
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douglass and the native american activist ruth revels and second. we transform the mt. pedestal into a piece of community driven installation art. there's so many questions about what should be done with contested monuments and who should decide it should offending figures be laying down or half buried. if they stand in own ruin and decay. should they be relocated to a park of fallen monuments or to museums which can provide historical context can context be created on site with the addition of new monuments set in conversation with the old ones should controversial monuments be removed entirely or their empty pedestals left as a reminder of their absence does the removal of monuments in fact affect systemic change. does it help to combat the
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racial oppression they were erected to perpetuate or does the removal of monuments indeed erase history does cultural heritage need to be palatable or should problems be preserved as well. the question we posed to visitors is framed this way. what should stand on a public pedestal? visitors right their answers on sticky notes and post them directly on the pedestal creating an accumulation of voices so that the pedestal becomes a forum of ideas and a space for democratic exchange if you have any suggestions for what should stand on a public pedestal do feel free to enter them in the q&a. i'd love to hear your ideas in the gallery. we have received a wide range of responses. justice jackson donald trump and right next to it. never donald trump and indigenous and androgynous version of the statue of liberty zelensky the jurors from the george floyd trial monuments to ideas not people monuments to human impact not events living monuments like gardens humorous answers like a comfy chair or my wife should be on a pedestal paragraph long answers about how the process for determining such an answer needs to respect community calls to use pedestals as spaces for performance art admonitions to never erase history and questions. why do we need pedestals? i like ending the exhibition on this question. what should stand on a public pedestal because it looks to the future of monuments because it makes the crucial point that history is neither neat nor finished and that we are all through the making of monuments and through the destruction of monuments engaged. this long-standing ongoing and collective process of writing and rewriting our shared history. i will turn to your questions now and stop my share. the first question is do the
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other versions of the statue of liberty. look the same or are their differences. the oh the other versions for instance the one that that recently came to new york, i believe they look i believe they look similar. what's interesting. is that the the there is a print at the nyppl schaumburg branch that has been considered by some people to be a model for our told you statue of liberty, and it does feature a black woman and bartholdi also before sculpting before. conceiving of the statue of liberty had designed a statue for the suez canal and that was
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a black egyptian woman who looked was in the same pose as the statue of liberty that monument was never realized and it became the basis for his composition for the statue of liberty in in new york harbor. so it's really quite fascinating history. the next question is many of the monuments that we looked at our representational are more abstract monuments inherently less problematic is a list of names or an obelisk less controversial or should we also think about what those types of monuments have to say to us. i've seen a lot of calls for abstraction rather than figuration, and i think that they yes, they they don't represent a particular
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individual and in that sense. i yes, i think that they have the potential to be less problematic. i think abstraction involves and viewers and people walking around the monument in a different way than the figure of white male statesman for example on a horse looming above looming above a crowd. there's also you know, you might consider the the placement of of monuments just their their vertical height and i sort of imagine the barber chaser bow mckett of her sojourner truth monument, which was never realized is one of my favorite pieces in the entire exhibition
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and i kind of imagined it as had it been realized as not being on a pedestal but as being on the ground with sojourner truth walking along siding at walking alongside us and guiding us. so i think there are a lot of ways that even figuration can be mediated and and perhaps made less less tangled but but abstraction is certainly another solution. and final question you mentioned a map of the reservation system. could you tell us a little bit more about where that map came from and why you selected it as part of that vignette. yes, that is a map from 18 to 1880s. it was the closest i could find
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to the date of the ward statue, which was 1860, but there's this amazing digital interactive map created out of the university of georgia called the invasion of america if any of you would like to look at up it visualizes native dispossession the dispossession of native land by the united states from 1776 to the present day and when you see it in time lapse, it really has an incredible visual impact. the it also offers data and the data that i pulled from that map is was used to inform. labels in 1860 when ward created his statuette of the indian hunter the united states had already seized seven million acres of land from indigenous people by the time george henry botan painted his pilgrims painting in 1867. just seven years later that number exceeded 1 billion and today it exceeds 1.5 billion and the 326. reservations add up today to about the size of idaho. so it's a really sort of
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remarkable resource to acquaint yourselves with should you wish so that is that is all for tonight's program. thank you hi peter, carmichael e
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director of the civil war institute here at gettysburg college. also a member of the history department and it is my pleasure to introduce to you joan wall. who is professor of america of ucla. she has published numerous books and articles on the american civil war and cultural history her. most notary title is right here to my right published by the university of north carol

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