“I am not the candidate of Black America, although I am black and proud, I am not the candidate of women’s movement of this country although am a woman and equally proud of that. I am the candidate of the people and my presence before you symbolizes a new era in American political history.” These were the words of Shirley Chisholm after she announced her interest in the presidential seat of the United States of America in 1972.
Shirley was an American politician, educator and author. She was the first black woman to run for Presidency and the first to be elected to the US congress in 1968. In 2015, Shirley was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Campaigning for the Presidential seat and the Congress was not a bed of roses for Shirley, perhaps because gender had something to do with it. She actually said, “When I ran for Congress, when I ran for President, I met more discrimination as a woman than for being black.” She expressed her frustration about “black matriarch thing” saying, “Men think I am trying to take power from them.” In her opinion, the black man must step forward but that does not mean that the black woman must step back.
Shirley’s love for leadership and development run in her blood, she dared to be herself, she dared to lead in an era where women and people of her skin color could not be perceived as leaders. she was one of America’s greatest dreamers; she wanted to take the citizens of America to greater heights and she indeed left an unforgettable mark. She passed on in 2005 and will forever be remembered especially for her contribution to the politics of the United States of America. The world of art is also playing part in celebrating this legend and soon there will be a monument in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park to honor Shirley Chisholm.
The New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs revealed five preliminary proposals for a new monument to honor Shirley Chisholm. The designs were conceived by the artists Firelei Baez, La Vaughn Belle, Tanda Francis, Mickalene Thomas and Amanda Williams and Olalekan Jeyifous.
The winning proposal will be selected through the city’s Percent for Art program in early April and will be commissioned as part of the She Built NYC initiative. Up to $1 million in funds will be available for the chosen project which will be presented to local community boards and submitted to the Public Design Commission later this year.
Firelei Baez proposed a sculpture of Chisholm; the sculpture is made of hand-painted metal columns. Depending on the view, the people would see one of three portraits, each reflecting different aspects of Chisholm’s career. The piece would stand between 10and 15 feet tall, and each image would include allusions to Afro-diasporic narratives.
La Vaughn Belle takes a famous quote by Chisholm as a point of departure: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” Belle proposed a sculpture of Chisholm holding a chair and stepping into a reinterpreted presidential seal on the ground.
Tanda Francis envisions a trail lined with quotes of Chisholm beginning at the Ocean Avenue entrance of Prospect Park. The path would lead to a large-scale bronze rendering of Chisholm’s face, surrounded by jets of water and light. Tanda described the ideas as “a colossal dedication which the people of New York City and the world will seek out and know of our commitment to honoring the women who helped build New York.”
Mickalene Thomas on the other hand imagines a human-scale sculpture of Chisholm seated at the top of a car. Benches surrounding the monument encourage engagement and interaction from visitors, and the nearby planters would contain plants that refer to the politician’s Caribbean heritage. In her proposal Thomas wrote, ‘Rather than portraying Shirley standing at a podium and speaking down to her audience, this model will instead show her rooted in the people’s space and speaking to their truths.” She added, “This is ultimately about the visibility of everyone in the community.”
Amanda Williams and Olalekan Jeyifous would entwine Chisholm’s silhouette with the outline of the dome of the U.S Capitol Building. Nodding to the layout of Congressional seating, an amphitheater-like shape would wrap around the monument.
Cultural affairs Commissioner Tom FinkePearl said in a statement, “We were thrilled to announce Shirley Chisholm as the first person honored and we’re excited to get a first look at what these artists are envisioning for this lasting testament to Chisholm’s achievements. We invite all New Yorkers to let us know what they think and help shape this landmark contribution to NYC’s public space.”
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said, “Shirley Chisholm, a true daughter of Brooklyn, born of West Indian immigrants who settled in Bedford-Stuyvesant, was one of this nation’s greatest dreamers. A monument of this magnitude, dedicated to the first person in 192 years to embody the triple threat of being black, a woman and a representative of Congress, is most deserving of this lasting recognition. It is long overdue.”
The public can comment on the proposals at women.nyc through March 31.
Which proposal will get to take the center stage in NYC? Well, they all are deserving because at the end of the day they aim at celebrating Shirley for being a woman of great historic importance.