Exhibition at Eliot School Redefines How We Think About Monuments

Public monuments—you probably walk by them every day without a second thought, but artist L’Merchie Frazier is trying to change the narrative around public monuments and what they mean to Americans.

Frazier, an artist committed to social and spacial justices, is the leader of a new work titled “New Urban Monuments: Stand Up Inside Yourself!” Which has been on view at Galatea Fine Art, a cooperative gallery in the SoWa district. The installation was created in partnership with students from Teen Bridge at the Eliot School of Fine & Applied Arts in Jamaica Plain.

 “This project is a call for the understanding of our own voices to manifest what it is in public space to add to the power of what is American memory that reflects citizen voice; that reflects young people’s voice,” Frazier said.

 “Frazier undertook this residency at a time when public monuments, specifically around racism and its history, are much in the news,” according to a press release from the Eliot School. “America is going through a very tense discussion about monuments,” Frazier said—whether or not they matter, destruction of monuments, and whether or not the ideals behind them are still how Americans feel today.

“While that conversation is going on, how do we as citizens reimagine the spaces and/or talk about those that are contrary to American democracy principles?” Frazier said.

Questions like who can claim responsibility for the creation of a memorial, where the money comes from, and how do these ideas get “waged in the legal ramifications for a particular idea being permanently placed in the landscape?” Are ones Frazier initially thought of when working on New Urban Monuments.

Frazier said her objective with this project was for young people to see themselves as “monumental” in terms of the ideas they could present and what they think is important. The first step was a series of workshops and artistic practices that got them thinking about these ideas, she said.

“We were able to do activities in collage, marbling, poetry workshops…that help us to understand a model for a monument, moving towards the exhibition,” Frazier said. Additionally, a survey was designed with ideas from people about what they saw in monuments, and what their favorite one is. “We collected over 150 surveys and we were able to see some of the sharing of what people like in monuments now,” she said. “I found that to be extremely helpful in helping the teens understand the power of voice.”

They took the survey findings into consideration when coming up with designs for the exhibition, and the teens decided to create body drawings of each other.

“It would emphasize to them how big they are,” Frazier said, and the drawings are augmented with collage and other materials. “We fabricated with recycled boxes and collaged fabrics and painted boxes a model for a monument…which reflected their ideas on their precious space of home, neighborhood, and community.” The exhibit also features a moveable box that functions as a four-sided mural with other images and words that are important to the teens.

 The daughter of a tailor and a crocheter/needleworker, Frazier said “a love of creating beautiful things was a part of my growing up.” A large portion of what she does involves working with cloth. “My conversation takes that kind of coding that the Eliot School of Fine & Applied Arts has a real investment in of keeping the traditions of these very formal, traditional arts that might have been forgotten in our environment of mass production and industrialization,” she said.

 She said she does not want the process of creating with the hands to be forgotten in our world of ever-changing technology, and this project has offered those skills and experiences to young people by allowing them to create art that is meaningful to them in a more traditional way.

 “They still like the tactile feelings of working with their hands,” Frazier said of the teens. “They see a connection…being able to manipulate with mediums not available on the internet.”

 She said this project is important because the future is in the hands of these teens—one day they will be the deciders on these issues, and this kind of experience will “help them be aware of the power of their voice and the power of art.”

The exhibition is on display at Galatea Fine Art until October 27, but Frazier said she looks forward to the project traveling and touring other venues in the City.

“The question that the exhibit offers is a challenge to the public,” Frazier said, is “can we create what goes into public space?” The answer, she said, is “of curse we can!”

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