Philly Plan for Tubman Memorial Draws Fire: Were Black Artists Excluded?

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tags: memorials, Harriet Tubman, Philadelphia, public history

The city of Philadelphia wants people to help shape the theme of a permanent Harriet Tubman statue by responding to a public input survey by July 13. But a number of Black artists and historians are criticizing the process as being unfair and insulting.

That is because the commission was awarded to Wesley Wofford, the sculptor who designed the traveling statue Harriet Tubman: The Journey to Freedom, that stood outside City Hall earlier this year, without seeking drawings or proposals from other artists.

“We feel cheated that we can’t get a chance to see what renditions other artists can offer us,” Maisha Sullivan-Ongoza of the Sankofa Artisans Guild, told city public art officials at a June 15 virtual public meeting.

The meeting was intended to seek input on the themes the new statue might include, but instead turned into a tense, angry discussion. People debated the process for the $500,000 commission and whether the race of the artist creating the image of perhaps the most iconic Black woman hero in American history mattered.

They said it was particularly insulting that Black American sculptors were not given the opportunity to show how they would have interpreted Tubman.

Wofford, who designed the traveling statue, is a white man, whose Wofford Sculpture Studio is based in North Carolina. He was part of the meeting, also.

Some said they were not opposed to the commission solely because Wofford is white. They talked about the inequity of the commission being “just given to him.”

Read entire article at Philadelphia Inquirer

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