Reimagining Monuments on the National Mall
Monuments play an important role in defining national identity, and there are no sites more central to the art of monument-making in the United States than Washington, DC’s, National Mall. This summer, six artists were invited to participate in a pilot program inviting them to explore new ways of thinking about monuments and to commemorate untold stories of our nation’s history using the National Mall as their canvas. One of those artists, Ashon Crawley, an artist, composer and professor of religious studies and African-American and African studies with UVA’s College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences is using the opportunity to honor queer Black musicians whose lives were cut short by AIDS.
With the Washington Monument and the National Museum of African American History and Culture as its backdrop, Crawley’s exhibit, “HOMEGOING,” is a temporary, mixed-media installation that combines sculpture and music evocative of the Black church experience to create a shrine to the musicians who have been misunderstood and marginalized even within their own communities and families.
“In the Black community, homegoing ceremonies are really important when people die, and the AIDS crisis interrupted our capacity to celebrate the lives of so many of those who were lost,” Crawley said. “When these musicians, choir directors and singers died, their queerness was never spoken of, or it was spoken of in a dismissive way if they were given a homegoing ceremony at all. Oftentimes, they weren’t, and ‘HOMEGOING’ is an attempt to reckon with that past and how that past is still present with us.”
“HOMEGOING” is part of the Beyond Granite: Pulling Together exhibition, an initiative the nonprofit organization Monument Lab that builds platforms for civic engagement, historical interpretation and storytelling that reimagines the role monuments play in the nation’s capital and beyond. The exhibition is hosted by the Trust for the National Mall, the National Capital Planning Commission and the National Park Service and is funded by the Mellon Foundation’s Monuments Project. Beyond Granite is free and open to the public through September 18, 2023.