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Welcome from the engine.

Posted by on Tuesday, September 8, 2020 in Uncategorized.

Welcome to the EADJ blog. Here, we will talk about the inspiration behind the collaborative program and invite students, faculty, staff, artists, and critics to join and expand the conversation.

Professor María Magdalena Campos-Pons teaches her performance class at Vanderbilt University.


  • Dinah Orozco-Herrera

    September 28th, 2020

    In these metacolonial times, how do we react? How can we create a truly democratic space in art? These are two of the fundamental questions that started the inaugural episode of the Fall Program last Wednesday, September 23, 2020: “Engine for Art, Democracy and Justice 2020 (EADJ)” with the leadership of Dr. María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Professor of Fine Arts at Vanderbilt University.

    The South is and will be a state of mind. As an Afro-Colombian woman from the continental Caribbean that I am, who enunciates her life for survival and justice from the South through poetry, for me these two questions are directly related to how visual representations, from an interdisciplinary perspective, can promote exploring inclusivity, creativity and the ways in which people are interconnected to live, dream and fight for our right to breathe freely. We just need thinkers, creators, dreamers and fighters to come together in one breath and build, brick by brick, our paths together to meet the challenges facing these times. And as James Baldwin taught us, people who have the courage to see and value what we know.

    Therefore, in the context of the current debate on monuments, we must understand them beyond being a building or construction and must be understood as a commemoration of a person, a group of people, but also as a thing, a matter, an artifact that conveys an idea about past societies and about ourselves. In this way, we must focus our attention on those who connect with controversial parts of our past such as that vault for Thomas Jefferson that reminds us of the relationship we have with slavery. But also understand the body, the skin as a fragmented monument in the history of the Confederation, as proposed by the poet Caroline Randall Williams, author of You want a Confederate Monument? My body is a Confederate Monument. A text that prompts us to rethink the foundations of American thought, and that the civil war is a continuum of history, which is not over yet for black people.

    Hence, the work of the panelists Hank Willis Thomas, Carrrie Mae Weems, Monika Szewczyk of this first episode has been crucial to distinguish the critical perspectives of contemporary art and its relationship with subjectivity, the game of representation in the form of monuments, the engineering of historical memory and the idea of race and class.

    Along these lines, the contribution of the African-American artist Hank Willis Thomas in Philadelphia, who articulates sculpture, video and collaborative projects, thus invites us to think about the role of popular culture, public spaces and the fight for justice social and human rights. The ethical-political action of this artist to create a sculpture located near a controversial confederal monument, after the tragic events, such as the assassination of George Floyd, reflects and questions the existence and the projects that represent the future that must be confronted. Opens the debate about the relational power of monuments; why they should move and where, or why not; who decides that they are important to a society, how can we challenge and change them, what does this mean in terms of how to dismantle the colonizing mission and think about justice, equity, not equality.

    Also noteworthy is the legacy of Carrie Mae Weems who, by transferring the message of art to other spaces such as families, citizens, the public, allows an interconnection with the relational aspect of monuments. It also tries to change our now and our future, not so much the context of memory itself, but its relationship with the architectural space, referring to the monuments that represent its power and its social imaginary, and do not leave space for other people or stories like the female bodies, which is not so represented in these monuments. In this sense, Carrie Mae Weems urges us to observe the gender and aesthetic value that occupies the space of these buildings in the midst of a Western ideology marked by the male vision and urges us to dislocate or relocate the materiality of the monuments. This view is related to what Professor Campos-Pons calls the “materiality of monuments linked to the European patriarchy” in the southern context. For example, if we think of Africa, these statues of men on horses are not so common there or how there are other kinds of monuments in other parts of the world that are connected with human rights.

    Likewise, the work of Monika Szewczyk that analyzes “Who’s coming to dinner too?” a work by Patricia Kaersenhout, a collective monument in Aple-Amsterdam that brings together black and colored women who have changed history. In my view, it is a work-archive of compilation of stories that allows us to remember the memory of the absent women who are not “individual dishes”, but shared food.

    The approaches of the aforementioned artists invite us to think about the vertical way of making history as those monuments of the confederation that look at us from above, therefore, they invite us to a new conceptualization of monuments among contemporary artists.

    So the question arises: How can we think about the hope of a future when we are still immersed in an idea of progress from the capitalist system? I could answer myself, that in the need to build a new future with monuments that represent our stories, “Let us be monuments ourselves” as Hank Willis Thomas put it in his speech.

  • Kayla Colon

    October 5th, 2020

    This is my full response for Episodes 1 & 2 of Vanderbilt Lecture Series “Engine for Art, Democracy and Justice,” as I make connections in my thoughts/reactions/questions following these lectures which had the same theme. As we have discussed monuments these past two weeks, several brilliant speakers have shared their personal experiences, knowledge gained from their years of studying, and discussions with one another about how we can move forward as a nation, as a world, continuously fighting for truth and justice. This search for truth came up a lot for me, especially as Caroline Randall Williams questioned how we have defined monuments in the past, and how we can redefine them today in order to frame the path we take towards a newer, more truthful historical narrative. When we have the truth surrounding us, especially in the form of art taking up space, what is the profound effect of this? There will always be people who may criticize and want history to be portrayed in a biased way, but for the truthseekers, for those who are constantly told lies by their family, community, government, and schools, this would mean a world where they feel secure in expressing their new ideas. Ideas formed out of lies are not as useful for a society to progress, for anything to evolve. Williams also talks about her body being a monument, her existence and biology being physical proof of the history that existed, and this really stuck with me. It personally resonates that I can look in the mirror as well and see the past which has led to my present reality, that I cannot hide from my ancestors’ truth. Many people in this world do not accept the parts of their identity they want to forget about, the parts that society tells them to hate, but what kind of world would we live in if everyone loved the skin they were in, and loved the skin of others, realizing its significance and insignificance? What kind of world would this be if we treated every “body” as a “monument” to their biological/cultural/spiritual history? Lastly, I completely agree with Caroline Randall Williams when she claimed that the monuments we are used to seeing, predominantly white powerful men who memorialized themselves and their actions that contributed to racial & class divides, have been weapons of intimidation. They have paid homage to a system that is racist, abusive, superficial, and not intended to support people of color. By keeping these parts of history standing tall with direct intentions of praising them, they stand as a reminder for people like us that we don’t belong here. And if we are here, we are here to serve, not to live freely and protected.
    Being less abstract with my thoughts now, I was inspired by Kevin D. Murphy’s statements about people challenging the use of public spaces, and engaging with them in order to spark change. He mentioned how creative intervention with public spaces in Virginia, people challenging what could occupy this space, eventually led to Confederate monuments being removed months later. His words were inspiring because he reminded me that small inputs of creativity in any space, especially public ones, can go such a long way. He reminded me that each small effort to rebel against the status quo, to include another group’s story and culture, to add to the collective truth, all adds up in the end. Each step towards inclusivity and rearrangements with space and art matter greatly for the bigger picture we want to see. Artist Carrie Mae Weems pointed out that monuments are sites for contemplation, questioning, transformation. She talks about the frustrations of seeking change in a system that historically has not changed much, and how we can keep the momentum for drastic change going. She suggests issues of representation can have a lot to do with our path towards a better democracy, but it goes far beyond this. Weems phrased it just right when she said that many of the buildings, monuments, artifacts we are surrounded with were made for masters of the house, slave owners. Occupying these spaces without ideological transformation happening over time is another weapon of intimidation. In order to move forward, we can take the weapons of intimidation they try to use to bring us down, and reframe them. We can build this alternate reality we imagine as a collective through our art forms, and present the old artifacts of the U.S. in their naked truth.
    Finally, Dr. Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons’ words in the conclusion of Episode 1 were a great reminder to me as well. “Love is the only ideology worth fighting for.” With love and truth at the heart of our intentions, and the core of artists’ work, driving this nation forward, how much can we achieve? What new world can we manifest for ourselves? What are we going to define our monuments as, what are we trying to remember, criticize, memorialize, praise through them? These are the questions we must continue to ask in order to take the objects/monuments that have failed at representing this country accurately and promoting ideologies of justice/equality/equity, and using them in new contexts to start fresh with our representation of the United States of America. As we balance material with ideology, we must be very intentional about the memories and actions attached to any monuments erected in a space made for people of diverse backgrounds.

  • Cayla B Mims

    October 7th, 2020

    The second week of the EADJ seminar continued the conversation about monuments. There were lots of moments throughout the conversion that I would like to respond to. First was a quote from the beginning of the seminar that I think framed the rest of the conversation well: “Art is the only real historical legacy”. While the history books have always been written by the hegemonic majority, art has always been a way for marginalized and overlooked communities to leave behind a piece of themselves. But art is different from other artifacts left behind because in many instances, especially in the non-western canon, art has a deeply vested cultural or spiritual significance. Art is not just an expression, but a reflection of the cultural contexts from which it’s produced. It is catharsis manifested and diffused through any number of mediums.
    On the topic monuments, I think those are cathartic in a way as well. Caroline Randall Williams referred to monuments as standing memories, artifacts that make tangible the history of the past. I think this is powerful definitely as it relates to her article “You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body is a Confederate Monument”. I want to refer to something James Baldwin said that I’ve been thinking about. Baldwin, in his 1979 speech at Berkeley, said something along the lines of “white people know for certain that they do not want to be black”. And that makes sense. Being black is to be socially, politically, and economically disenfranchised and disparaged. Blackness in our society is a disadvantage. But I also think Williams illuminates that there is perhaps something deeper. Let’s say that, hypothetically, we woke up tomorrow in a utopian society where all Black Americans were given their reparations, their 40 acres, and a mule. In this utopia, wealth has also been redistributed and all of our major social institutions have undergone massive reform to become more just and equitable. In this utopic vision, the social, political, and economic disadvantages have been eliminated, and for the first time, the playing field is truly even. Even under this hypothetical pretense, I would still argue that Baldwin’s quote would remain true. White people don’t want to be black because of their white privilege, unquestionably. But to be black would also mean carrying the weight of history, the weight of being a monument. To be black is to be cast out of something much more valuable than bronze.
    White people don’t want to be black or brown because that would mean confronting the consequences of colonialism every minute, every second of their existence. Even if there was a reckoning, a reconciliation between races in this country, BIPOC would still be haunted by the phantom pains of colonialism. It’s intrinsic to our culture, everything we consume, touch, feel, has been influenced by this country’s egregious colonial past. If we extended the utopian metaphor, to argue that culture, consumption was completely reshaped it wouldn’t be enough. Because the melanin in our skin is still a reminder, still a monument to colonialism. One of the most powerful quotes from the seminar was when Bonaventure said “We cannot forget the extreme violence of the colonial enterprise”. And I think that is so important to keep in mind as we move forward with our conversations.

  • Kayla Colon

    October 14th, 2020

    Within the third episode of Engine for Art, Democracy, and Justice, I watched a beautifully led discussion about how we can achieve solidarity through art, activism, and beauty. This conversation was very valuable to me as it allowed me to come to many conclusions about what a community in solidarity truly looks like, and the power that art has to infiltrate every aspect of life that brings people together. It also raised many questions for me as I am wondering what my role will be in continuing to bring about solidarity in my immediate spaces, and how the future may be shaped by our present decisions to either build or divide connection. This idea that “We are everyone and everything,” stated by Rina Banerjee is one that has weighed heavily in my mind throughout this year. The more chaotic, divided, and scary the world seems in my head as I process current events, the more my spirit aches to show others how we are all the same. It is painful to feel the intense connection and straining distance between yourself and every other human that exists right now, which is why it is so important to have compassion and empathy. In the beginning of this lecture, we acknowledged and praised the achievement of over 30,000 protesters to hold neo-fascist groups accountable as criminals and charge them for recent attacks and murders. This was an incredible example of solidarity, as a large group of diverse people came together for the same cause, and no illusive boundary of identity could divide that determination. Another concept that made me think differently about pathways towards solidarity was the portrayal of beauty in this lecture, as symmetry, as a human right, as connection, as aesthetically pleasing materials and spaces that can be shared. I would like to highlight some of the speakers’ points that stood out to me and add my remaining reflection of this talk.
    Artist Rina Banerjee discussed her work “When Signs of Origins Fade,” and the struggle to achieve full authenticity and connection with one’s history and land, especially being a part of the diaspora. We all could not grasp the full trace of humans that came before us, but we do know our origin is one. She makes the point that we all come from many places through our ancestry, we are a part of nature, and every moment of history lingers on in each of us. This is all to emphasize our innate solidarity that we must choose to discover and accept, to highlight that our individual identities are in fact pathways to solidarity as we grow to understand one another. This idea that Banerjee expresses of “learning each other’s language” in order to grow as a society, as a planet, goes far beyond the words we use to communicate. We must be active in our pursuit of knowledge from one another, learning languages of culture, philosophy, love, physical bodies, spirituality, and more. Similarly, artist Otobong Nkanga and Theaster Gates suggest restoring justice and overall human connection by creating support systems based in universal/global knowledge, exchanging our “fruits” of knowledge, beauty, and life. Nkanga explores the symbolic importance of someone carrying life, creating, adding beauty to the world; we can only create and regenerate our environment by connecting to the past that we share, connecting to our local materials, and adapting with the changes that we currently face. I think Gates brings up a suggestion that also resonates with my journey, the mission to take places considered unworthy or undesirable, and transforming them with beauty, thus transforming the spirit of the community that exists within. The last thing that stuck with me was his confirmation that we fall into our “divine” nature when we gather with supportive communities in beauty and love. The importance of giving beauty and visibility to people is immeasurable and truly transformative. This all made me think about how we can go beyond the arts with art, what activism really looks like, and our mission as one. Someone said to me recently that we will not achieve world peace until we have one common enemy as a human race, but what if the enemy is ourselves, our ego, and the destruction that some ancestors have already caused? Some are blind to the chaotic reality that exists because they are shielded by their privilege within a capitalist structure, but nothing lasts forever. Once this fades, once people are forced to face the truth and fruits of their labor, or the labor of others exploited, what choice will they make to contribute to this community? What work can we do as artists to put everyone in the same boat, fighting for the same thing? Fighting for a reclamation of our universal identity, our divine nature, our potential to create and transform, the freedom to express ourselves and protect our local communities, the ability to overthrow a rising tyranny.

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