A monument honoring political icon Shirley Chisholm – designed by two AAP instructors, both alumni – will soon rise in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.
It is the first of five monuments, one in each borough, that will honor women who have made significant contributions to New York City. The monuments will also serve to address the dearth of memorials featuring women in the city’s public spaces.
Titled “Our Destiny, Our Democracy,” the Chisholm monument is the brainchild of architecture graduates Amanda Williams ’97 and Olalekan Jeyifous ’00, both of whom served recently as visiting critics for the College of Architecture, Art and Planning (AAP). The proposed 40-foot-tall steel gateway to the park interweaves a multidimensional portrait of Chisholm and a silhouette of the U.S. Capitol dome with a small sculpted seating area below.
Williams and Jeyifous, who met as undergraduates, were commissioned to create the memorial as winners of a call for submissions sponsored by the She Built NYC public art project. They both see this project as an integral step in their artistic evolutions.
“We were recently awarded an art commission for the National Public Housing Museum in Chicago and share a lot of the same philosophies about art and architecture,” Jeyifous said. “We have similar trajectories in our careers, starting as architects who became full-time artists. We seek advice from each other and share ideas. Our Cornell training helped, in that we had a critical mass of classmates with similar backgrounds who developed a philosophy about architecture together.”
“We previously submitted a joint proposal with Hansy Better (B.Arch. ’98) to create an MLK memorial in Boston, and while we did not receive that commission, we used it as a foundation for this project,” Williams said. “We saw the She Built NYC initiative as an opportunity to honor an individual who fought hard for the recognition of women and people of color during her lifetime. It’s important for people to learn about her and from her.”
Jeyifous points out that the design is unconventional, reflecting an unconventional subject.
“This is not a die-cast sculpture on a pediment,” he said. “For us, it’s about creating a space that’s part of the conversation about the community and its history. Our objective was to create something that was embedded in the space, not just standing above it; you can walk into this memorial, it’s interactive.”
The memorial is large, colorful and reflects the “audacious” character of Brooklyn, Williams said. “It has an energy that speaks to Brooklynites,” she said. “This is how the community wants the world to see them.”
Williams notes that Chisholm, who died in 2005, was audacious in her own right, being the first black woman elected to Congress, in 1968, and becoming the first black woman to run for president, in 1972.
“The She Built NYC initiative was formed to honor women – and the focus is quite timely,” she said. “We read Shirley Chisholm’s biography and watched the documentary on her historic run for president, and much of what she said and did remains relevant. She was ahead of her time. She was a consensus-builder, she energized people to participate in government on many levels.”
Completion of “Our Destiny, Our Democracy” is expected in the summer of 2020.
Jay Wrolstad is a freelance writer for the College of Architecture, Art and Planning.