In the landscape of monuments and memorials that line the National Mall, what parts of the American story remain untold? A groundbreaking new art exhibition, on view until September 18, aims to answer that question through six commemorative art installations placed throughout the Mall.
Beyond Granite: Pulling Together is a temporary exhibition, from a diverse group of contemporary artists, that centers around the theme of telling untold American stories. This is the first curated public outdoor exhibition of its kind to take place on the National Mall.
This is the first piece of larger initiative, Beyond Granite, that was organized by the Trust for the National Mall, the National Capital Planning Commission, and the National Park Service, which will bring a series of art installations to the National Mall in the future.
“As America’s Civic Stage, the National Mall represents the country’s history and embodies the ideals on which our nation’s democracy was founded,” the Beyond Granite website said. “As such, it should encompass and reflect more diverse and multilayered representations of American history, experiences, and stories.”
Because the finite amount of space on the Mall limits the number of permanent monuments that can be installed, this initiative aims to harness the power of temporary installations. The concept draws inspiration from significant historical moments that used it as their stage, such as the AIDS Memorial Quilt and the white flag COVID memorial.
This inaugural exhibition’s theme, Pulling Together, was inspired by Black opera singer Marian Anderson’s 1939 Easter Sunday performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, after she was barred from performing at Constitution Hall due to segregation.
Paul Farber and Salamishah Tillet from Monument Lab curated this exhibit and encouraged the artists to consider themes of national identity, memory, participation, and legacy.
“[The artists’] temporary art installations, with their large scale and sweeping historical scope, generously invite the public to remember how Americans have gathered and continue to engage the National Mall as a place of play, protest, and patriotism,” Tillet said.
This 9-foot steel and resin statue represents Anderson’s performance, where she is held up by a sea of hands and Sandhof lilies.
A map of the world traces the routes of immigrants and refugees from the Vietnam War in color-coded ropes.
A fingerprint features the names of 50 Apsáalooke (Crow) Nation chiefs who signed treaties with the U.S. government, to highlight the complex history of treaties between Indigenous nations and the U.S.
A fully functional playground, divided by a billboard-sized image of DC’s Edgewood Park taken days after DC schools were desegregated, represents the history of segregation in the city.
This installation is an audiovisual memorial to the AIDs crisis. It uses themes of spirituality to honor Black, LGBTQ church musicians.
An interactive bell tower that plays “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” except for its final note. Passersby can ring the final note on a 600-pound bell and “proclaim for what or whom they ring this bell of freedom.”
Feature image of Of Thee We Sing by Vanessa German, photo by AJ Mitchell Photography
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