Designs proposed for Say Their Names art installation
In the spring, the Say Their Names Collective issued a call to Black artists for proposals for a permanent art installation, yielding four submissions. Two proposals passed a community voting phase and Wednesday came in front of the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission, which will oversee design and installation of any artwork on APRC property.
The art installation was initially proposed to supplant or add to the “Say Their Names” memorial along the fence at Railroad Park — erected in response to George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police in May 2020.
Micah BlackLight proposed a winged figure sculpture for placement at Railroad Park or Ashland Creek Park, titled “Ancestor’s Future: Crystalizing Our Call.”
BlackLight indicated a preference for placement at Ashland Creek Park as a way to establish “identity” in the space, and in recognition of the HUB sculpture approved for installation at Railroad Park this fall.
BlackLight’s proposed stainless and ferrous steel sculpture alludes to angels, ancestors and those in touch with greater understanding, he said. Domed wings shield the figure “from the figurative arrows and stones of classism, racism, division and hatred,” as well as harsh weather.
An open space in the figure’s chest allows the viewer to see through to the mountains and sky and represents limitless love, he said. A half-ring of stepping stones in front would invite viewers to share space with the figure, take a moment of introspection or meditate. Decorating the stones could be a community activity, he said.
“Some may even view him as the spirit of George Floyd, whose death turned out to be such an incredibly galvanizing spark for so many, that he could return as a being of greater understanding, shepherding the way to a better life, paved by his death,” BlackLight said.
A book on the figure’s lap represents accountability for what has happened and continues to be written, inscribed with the names of Black and Brown people devoted to ending cycles of violence and those lost to police brutality, he said. The book would open on three sides.
“He looks ahead to the waiting hope of the future, while letting us know he’s not going to forget and he’s not blind to the trials we will face in our quest for that future — there’s no rosy glasses,” BlackLight said.
BlackLight listed collaborators for the proposed sculpture project, including a master sculptor, local fabrication company and metalsmith.
“Because it involves the curiosity, because it engages the viewer, it would serve as an invitation into the park,” he said. “To sit on the grass and to actually partake of the energy and the space of the park as opposed to being something that’s a thing that you stare at.”
As part of the community engagement component the collective specified as critical, the public could contribute to drafting a statement of intent for inscription on the sculpture, BlackLight said.
Jerryck “JRoc” Murrey proposed a sculpture composed of four nine-foot timber dominoes and a seated viewing area at Ashland Creek Park, celebrating the journey of Black culture through American history and highlighting the value of cultural contributions “despite systemic challenges.”
“[Playing dominoes] is often a time when the community orients around each other, comes together and it’s a jovial experience,” Murrey said. “It contrasts deeply with the broader statement of ‘falling like dominoes.’”
In 1930, a law prohibited Blacks and whites from playing dominoes or checkers together in Birmingham, Alabama.
“African American leisure activities have often included playing tabletop games like checkers, dominoes, bid whist and others,” according to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. “[The games] brought groups and families together, which made it a threat to the Jim Crow South.”
The orientation of the dominoes somewhat mimics Stonehenge, “underscoring the disparity within the ancestral voyage to America,” Murrey wrote in the project proposal.
Foot traffic from the nearby skate park and community garden make Ashland Creek Park an ideal nexus for the sculpture, with fewer barriers to installation compared to other sites in town, he said.
Numerical figures on the dominoes further illustrate the message — three over five representing a time when enslaved people were counted as three-fifths of a person under article one, section two of the U.S. Constitution, for example.
Murrey proposed burning one of the dominoes in a controlled environment to char as a community event to accompany the installation, to protect the wood from insects and rot, and add a layer of fire protection, he said. A resin would cover the three unburned dominoes.
“[The controlled burn] would represent a vigil for the lives lost and a way for the community to reflect, and also create a presentation art that the community can be complicit in in the best way,” Murrey said.
“The charred timber would symbolize that even when a community is involved in shared traumatic experiences, through fire we can become stronger and more unified,” he wrote. “In this sense, the fire is metaphorical to the trials which serve to change physical properties and make the elements stronger.”
A panel of Black community members will vote to select a permanent art installation design in January, before submitting the selection to the Public Arts Commission, Say Their Names Collective leader Jessica Freedman said.
APRC considered maintenance, safety and durability for both proposals.
“I’m excited that Ashland Creek Park looks to be a viable option for this project,” Commissioner Mike Gardiner said. “It appears to be more appropriate from my vantage point because of no competing other artwork in the park ... and I would be excited to take my grandkids and explore either one of these pieces on our way to the playground.”