May 07, 2021
The opening of the “Monumental Reckoning” sculpture in Golden Gate Park would coincide with June 19th
San Francisco, CA. – Mayor of London N. Breed announced today that the city of San Francisco is planning a new public art installation to honor black life and African American history. The installation is scheduled to take place next month, punctually on June 19th, in the music hall of Golden Gate Park.
Bay Area sculptor Dana King’s installation Monumental Reckoning honors the first Africans stolen from their homes and sold into slavery in the New World. The installation consists of 350 sculptures depicting the number of Africans originally forced onto the slave ship San Juan Bautista for a journey of death and suffering across the Atlantic. A handful of these original 350 ancestors became America’s first enslaved humans.
The sculptural figures made of black steel with vinyl pipes, each one meter high, would surround the empty pedestal on which a statue of Francis Scott Key once stood. Key, who wrote the lyrics for the Star Spangled Banner, was a slave owner and anti-abolitionist. Protesters overturned the statue on June 19, 2020.
“The art and monuments that we exhibit in our city and the civic art that fills our public space must reflect the diversity of our community and honor our history,” said Mayor Breed. “This powerful public art installation in Golden Gate Park will not only help us commemorate Juneteenth, it will also serve as an example of how we can honor our painful past and reflect on the challenges we face today.”
Monumental billing would allow visitors to communicate with the characters. The phrase “Lift Every Voice” would shine from the top of the nearby Spreckels Temple of Music through a second, connected piece by Illuminate the Arts. These are the first three words of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a song written by civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson and premiered in 1900, the same year the Spreckels Temple of Music opened. Johnson’s Song of Unity has been sung as the black national anthem for more than a century. The representative of the United States, James Clyburn, is currently trying to name the song as America’s national anthem.
“I am delighted that the new monument in Golden Gate Park is being erected to honor black lives and the rich history of African Americans,” said Shamann Walton, Chairman of the Board of Directors. “I think this is a perfect example of trying to correct an injustice. Instead of uplifting people with oppressive histories, this is an opportunity to honor diversity and our community through public art.”
The installation was approved this week by both the San Francisco Arts Commission and the Operations Committee of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission. It is currently being reviewed by the planning commission. Lift Every Voice must also be approved by the city’s heritage committee before it can be installed. If approved, Monumental Reckoning would open to the public on June 19 or June 19, 2021, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. The artwork would stay in place until June 20, 2023.
“The memory of African descendants deserves to be told truthfully and publicly,” said Dana King, the sculptor of Monumental Reckoning. “Monumental Reckoning accomplishes both goals with the installation of 350 ancestors to surround the base of Francis Scott Key in Golden Gate Park. The ancestors stand in court and blame history for the terror inflicted on the first group of enslaved people, brought here in 1619. The last person to be sold to another person, all victims of slavery, and although the enslavement business ended long ago, for African Americans it is still intergenerational and the foundation on which systems of oppression are multiplying today. “
“What Dana King’s powerful installation communicates and reminds of is a sober cultural blow that is long overdue, and I hope it is the beginning of many such visual testaments in public spaces that revere the origins of our most marginalized and disenfranchised populations,” said Ralph Remington, San Francisco’s director of cultural affairs. “We almost never see pictures of black people depicted in our public monuments or in American history. So it is not surprising that in a society based on white supremacy, people of color are in our mythology, symbols, and ours Architecture remains invisible and undervalued and national narrative. As the city examines the historic works in our Civic Art Collection and the future of San Francisco monuments, this installation will help build and advance a discourse about who and what we are in our open spaces Adore spaces. “
“We are incredibly proud to host this powerful piece,” said Phil Ginsburg, general manager of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department. “Monumental Reckoning encourages an open discussion about the legacy of slavery while setting a course between past, present and future. We are grateful to have these crucial conversations in Golden Gate Park – a popular public space that belongs to everyone. “
Fundraising, public relations and ongoing support for the installation are provided by the Museum of the African Diaspora. The Black Woman is God, an annual group exhibition of black women artists curated by Karen Seneferu and Melorra Green, provides creative and programming support. The project recognizes black women as essential for building a more just society and a sustainable future and recovers space that black women artists have historically been denied.
The video of the proposed installation can be found here.
This news release was prepared by the office of the Mayor of San Francisco. The views expressed here are the author’s own.