The city has unveiled five designs vying to be chosen as the monument of trailblazing Brooklyn legislator Shirley Chisholm, and wants New Yorkers to weigh in on the decision. The monument is the first of five statues of significant women that will be erected across the five boroughs as part of the city’s She Built NYC initiative (bringing the grand total of statues honoring women in New York City up to, ahem, ten.)
The monument to Chisholm is poised to be erected in 2020 at the Parkside Avenue entrance of Prospect Park, and aims to honor her legacy as the country’s first black Congresswoman, elected in 1969 to represent the city’s 12th district, and as the first woman to run for president on the Democratic ticket.
In her seven-term tenure in Congress, according to the National Women’s History Museum, Chisholm “introduced more than 50 pieces of legislation and championed racial and gender equality, the plight of the poor, and ending the Vietnam War.” She was also the first black woman and second woman ever to serve on the House Rules Committee—all powerful accomplishments reflected in the five designs.
The proposed designs were solicited through the city’s Percent for Art program that seeks to commission public art from artists representative of the diversity of New York City. The Percent for Art design committee will ultimately decide which design proposal will move forward, but are asking for the public’s feedback, which can be submitted privately through the project’s website from now through this coming Sunday, March 31.
Now, a brief summary of each proposal, which are also featured on the project’s website:
Excerpt of the artist’s statement: Chisholm Trail Memorial is a bold and timeless dedication to Shirley Chisholm, supported by her own powerful words. Her inspiring quotes are embedded into the ground on the sidewalk leading to the Ocean Avenue entrance of Prospect Park. This trail tempers visitors to the mindset of this great woman as they approach her monumental bronze representation framed by vertical jets of water and light.
Excerpt of the artist’s statement: This proposal reinterprets Shirley Chisholm’s famous quote, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table bring a folding chair,” and positions it into a larger framework of mobility.
This monument invites visitors to not only think about Chisholm’s personal journey from childhood to elderhood but also the movement of a people and a nation. For what her historic run for the presidency challenges most is our imaginary of what is possible. Wearing a turban and an eagle pin, she steps boldly into a re-envisioned version of the presidential seal.
Excerpt of the artist’s statement: The sculpture that inspires me is one that reflects the breadth of Shirley Chisholm’s impact and also illustrates her as a woman who was deeply in touch with the people of the Brooklyn community.
In the current political and cultural landscape, art is about accessibility and immersive experiences. Rather than portraying Shirley standing at a podium and speaking down to her audience, this model will instead show her rooted in the peoples’ space and speaking to their truths.
Excerpt of the artist’s statement: The monument to Shirley Chisholm is comprised of a series of hand-painted metal columns that collectively shape-shift into three respective portraits of the trailblazing legislator and first African-American presidential candidate. When viewed from different angles, this traversable forest of flower-like posts will transform into three different representations of Shirley Chisholm. As the viewer walks around the sculpture, the partial images painted onto each of the posts’ three sides will coalesce into three distinct portraits. Each one represents a different aspect of Chisholm’s public role and accomplishments.
Excerpt of the artists’ statement: We have created a monument to Shirley Chisholm that celebrates her legacy as a civil servant who “left the door open” to make a space for others to follow in her path toward equity and a place in our country’s political landscape.
Depending upon your vantage point and approach to the Ocean Avenue entrance, you can see Ms. Chisholm’s silhouette inextricably intertwined with the iconic dome of the U.S. Capitol building. This mashup symbolizes how she disrupted the perception of who has the right to occupy such institutions and to be an embodiment for democracy.
The full artists’ statements can be found on the project’s website along with the private feedback form. (Which, reminder, should be filled out before this Sunday, March 31.)
The de Blasio administration announced in early March that Chisholm’s Brooklyn monument will be joined by monuments to legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday, who lived in Queens before her death in 1959; civil rights leader Elizabeth Jennings Graham, who helped desegregate New York City’s streetcars in the 19th century, whose monument will rise in Manhattan; Dr. Helen Rodríguez Trías, who practiced in the Bronx and was an advocate for woman and children; and Katherine Walker, who oversaw the Robbins Reef Lighthouse near Bayonne (which is now part of Staten Island’s Noble Maritime Collection) for many years.
The monument to Chisholm is the second public initiative honoring Chisholm’s life and work coming to New York. In September, Gov. Andrew Cuomo revealed that a new 407-acre park in Jamaica Bay, built as part of the state’s Vital Brooklyn initiative, would also be named for the pioneering legislator.