What does it mean to create a monument? Linger long enough at Theaster Gates’s Monument in Waiting sculpture, currently on view in Korman Quad at Drexel University’s University City Campus, and the question will certainly come to mind.
During a one-day symposium and performance on April 3 titled “The Monument We Make,” Gates, along with Mellon Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander, PhD, and Monument Lab Director and Co-founder Paul Farber, PhD, will dive deeper into the meaning of memorials, using Monument in Waiting as a launching pad for discussion. The sculpture also will serve as a site of performance. “The Monument We Make” is presented in partnership with Ars Nova Workshop and Gray gallery.
“This felt like an auspicious moment for us to bring together some of the leading minds in the country about what it means to build a monument or what it means to memorialize something or someone,” Managing Director of Philadelphia Contemporary JJ El-Far said. “This is a conversation happening on a national scale.”
Philadelphia Contemporary, Forman Arts Initiative and Drexel are the presenters for Monument in Waiting, which Gates created during the turbulent summer of 2020 and first exhibited at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, New York. It evokes a dismantled public forum and examines how monuments are destroyed, preserved or adapted to enshrine historical moments and figures. The Mellon Foundation has partnered with Monument Lab in Philadelphia as part of their “Monuments Project” that aims to transform memorials nationwide by supporting projects that more accurately reflect the complexity of American stories.
“An effective arts community requires not only talented individuals like Theaster Gates, but also a supportive network that encourages innovation, collaboration and discussion,” Forman Arts Initiative Co-founder Michael Forman said. “Through events like ‘The Monument We Make,’ we hope to add to Philadelphia’s history of serving as a close-knit, supportive hub for discourse and the arts.”
Programming runs from 4–9 p.m. with the panel discussion at 5:30 p.m. at Drexel’s Mandell Theatre, but there will be five hours of programming starting at 4 p.m. People are welcome to attend any or all events and can RSVP online.
4 p.m.: Viewing of Monument in Waiting with a performance by Mind Maintenance featuring Joshua Abrams on guimbri and Chad Taylor on mbira
5:30 p.m.: Remarks, panel discussion, and Q&A featuring Gates, Alexander, and Farber, moderated by Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design Dean Jason Schupbach, and presentation of an honorary degree to Gates by Drexel’s President John Fry and Forman Arts Initiative’s Co-Founder Michael Forman
6:30 p.m.: Performance by Odean Pope, Abrams, and Taylor, curated by Mikel Avery
8 p.m.: Closing reception in Behrakis Hall with the Drexel Jazztet
El-Far, the managing director of Philadelphia Contemporary, hopes the event will lead audiences to expand their idea of what a monument can be, what should be memorialized, or how to memorialize events in ways that keep the context in mind. The musical performances during “The Monument We Make” will serve as their own sort of monuments.
“Without any capture medium, live performances continue on only in our minds,” said Avery, a multidisciplinary musical artist. “This type of invisible, malleable form is something to consider while we collectively reevaluate what a monument is or could represent. From the start it was important to me that we use this moment to not only program the performances of people that either live here or that are from here, but that they themselves within their practices have provided a type of light. An unwavering forward momentum towards openness that I find is essential to engage in the type of conversation Theaster Gates is providing with his work.”