When you think of the word "monument," what pops into your head? The Washington Monument, Statue of Liberty, permanence, government...

Monument seems to have been conventionally associated with authority and dominant history. However, is there an alternative model to building monuments that represents the diverse histories and stories of ordinary people? Monument Lab, a citywide public art and history project co–produced by Mural Arts Philadelphia and curators Paul Farber and Ken Lum, aims to answer. The project runs from September 16 to November 19 and features temporary installations created by 20 artists in 10 of Philadelphia’s iconic public squares and neighborhood parks. The project also includes panel discussions and TEDstyle talks, as well as learning labs that encourage people to design or describe their own visions for monuments that represent Philadelphia. These proposals from the public will be scanned on site and displayed at the exhibition hub at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts through December 10.

Jane Golden, Executive Director of Mural Arts Philadelphia, pointed out the significance of Monument Lab at the opening, "[This work] was about representing people who felt historically unrepresented… What it does is that it asks us to engage and connect. And what about monuments? Who do you want to honor? What values do we hold dear as a city? What are the untold stories? Who and what do we want to elevate?... And who makes culture?”

The artists featured in Monument Lab, who come from different backgrounds and artistic focuses, address issues such as immigration, race, gender and environment in their works. Tania Bruguer, Klip Collective, Michelle Angela Ortiz, and Shira Walinsky use sculpture, projection, and kiosk to tell the narratives of immigration through the perspectives of children, families of Philadelphia, and refugees from Southeast Asia. Two Penn Professors, David Hartt and Sharon Hayes, also participated in the project. Hartt’s film for everyone a garden VIII, created in collaboration with youth from the Norris Square Neighborhood Project (NSNP), explores the West African diaspora as an aspect of Puerto Rican ancestry. Hayes's cement sculpture If They Should Ask highlights the absence of monuments to women in Philadelphia. Modeled after the bases of various existing area sculptures commemorating men, the sculpture is encircled with names of women in Philadelphia history.

The curatorial team at Monument Lab took a collective approach that is conscious of current social issues and values diversity and public engagement. Because of its temporary and experimental nature, the project was not meant to result in one monument that represents the city of Philadelphia and its people. Rather, Monument Lab challenges the ways monuments are traditionally designed and produced. 


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