Home Arts New York City approves revised design for long-awaited Shirley Chisholm monument

New York City approves revised design for long-awaited Shirley Chisholm monument

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New York’s Public Design Commission approved revised designs for a monument to Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005), the first black woman ever elected to the U.S. Congress, in 1968. A political pioneer for the rights of women and people of color, Chisholm is seen as a symbol of liberation inside and outside her Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant; her status as the first black woman or person to seek a presidential nomination in 1972 cemented her legacy as a Democratic dynamo far ahead of her time.

THE Public Design Commissionwhich oversees all permanent artwork in the city, unanimously approved the latest version of the green and yellow design submitted by artists Amanda Williams and Olalekan B. Jeyifous on July 17, The New York Times reported. The current iteration is eight feet shorter than previous designs, in compliance with accessibility laws. It will stand proudly at the Parkside entrance to Prospect Park in Brooklyn.

Plans for a monument in honor of Chisholm have been first announced in November 2018 as part of the She Built NYC initiative led by then-Mayor Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlaine McCray. She Built NYC has committed $10 million to commission public art that celebrates the history of women in New York. The artists responsible for the Chilsholm monument were chosen in April 2019, with an initial schedule calling for the piece to be installed in 2020.

The pandemic has however delayed the progress of the installation and the change of administration following the election of Eric Adams has further planned commemoration from the likes of Billie Holiday, Marsha P. Johnson and Katherine Walker, though the administration insisted those projects would soon be underway. Prior to the launch of the She Built NYC initiative, only five statues in New York were dedicated to historic women.

Rendering of the revised Shirley Chisholm monument recently approved by the New York City Council Courtesy of Olalekan B. Jeyifous and Amanda Williams

In their presentation to the Public Design Commission, Williams and Jeyifous characterized their proposal – which combines the silhouette of Chisholm with that of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. – as a metaphor for Chisholm’s disruption of traditionally white and male spaces. “This trailblazing woman was not tiny and this monument reflects how much bigger Chisholm’s ideals of collaboration were than herself,” the artists said in a statement. The presentation also included images of plants from Barbados, where Chisholm spent four years during her early childhood with her maternal grandmother.

When Chisholm ran for president, her campaign slogan was “unbought and bossless,” a nod to her determination and distaste for the corruption for which New York politics remains notorious. During the public hearing for the design of the monument, Jimmy Van Bramer, a former New York City Council member and current member of the Public Arts Commission, said, “This is the most exciting project I’ve seen since I’ve been commissioner…I imagine Shirley Chisholm would like the idea.”

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