ISSUE #9 DESIGNING JUSTICE

It sometimes feels like every week is testing us to find when we’ll break. Some have broken. And of course they have. Of course there are riots in all 50 states right now. Both sides feel like they’re losing. And we believe there are sides.

I’m marching, I’m donating, I’m consoling with friends and strangers alike and I’m doing my best to participate in and build community.

The next steps at Neon Fabrications looks like this:
We’re discovering what monuments to marginalized groups look like below in this issue. Plus what’s being done to build more, the controversy hindering others and the crusaders fighting to make it all happen.We’ll also speak to my life-long collaborator Rakia Seaborn who is making space and giving movement to black women in collaboration with Queer POC everday!

Join Rakia and I Monday @7pm EST when we’ll go LIVE on Instagram @neonfabrications to dive deep and swift into all of this!

Last November, Rakia and I arrived for a meeting about The David Prize near Grand Central. It’s a prize given to New Yorkers for New Yorkers. We’ve proposed creating Future Queer Brooklyn (FQBK), an Arts Festival by and for Queer POC. Imagine a colorful celebration of sculpture, performances and installations finding its light in Brooklyn. We want to give form to what a queer future embodies to support our entire community.

In our proposal, we wrote:
“In the face of impending political, environmental and social fear, everyday we create.”

And it’s never been more true. Everyday, we create. My architecture license and project manager position at an arts fabrication company, the garden trellis and 3D printing hardware, the Instagram posts and stories, these newsletters and the highlights of other makers, they’re all in service.

Neon Fabrications is the base, the HQ, the studio, the lab, the factory, the playground, the community for and by everyone. It’s from this foundation that we will catalyze FQBK. That’s you. And that’s us.

Who are we becoming to achieve this goal? When asked on the prize submission who our avatars would be in 10 years time, Rakia and I wrote:
We will be known as an unstoppable duo for performance and making! As if Janelle Monae with Dick Polich, Freddie Mercury and Adrian Piper emerged as one great artist, fabricator and activist.

How audacious and fabulous! All four represent us two.

After the David Prize meeting, Rakia and I walked to Times Square to see Kehinde Wiley’s Rumors of War sculpture that was temporarily installed and took the photo above.

It’s absolutely no coincidence that we found out just yesterday that we have not been named finalists this year. The same week that racial tensions are building stronger than either of us have seen in our lifetimes. The same day that Rakia, myself and our queer family here in New York marched from Stonewall to Union Square with thousands of others in protest to support #BlackTransLivesMatter against continued racial violence.

There’s never been a more ripe opportunity to showcase those underrepresented than right now. The silence of the pandemic followed by the riots for Black Lives Matter has opened an even large incentive to establish Future Queer Brooklyn. It’s also catalyzed the formation of Neon Fabrications. We’re working to achieve both missions in many ways already.

Every day we create. And with or without the prize, we’re doing it.

With pride,
Sean


Not All Monuments Are Created Equal

It can appear from the outside that protesters have an unwieldly hand at destroying and looting without regard. A statue of a Union soldier in Denver has been vandalized as seen above in that seemingly chaotic spirit.

Yet amid the destruction, it is with pride that Kehinde Wiley’s Rumors of War sculpture stands unscathed. A statue that celebrates the African American community and stands only down the road facing-off with a confederate statue it was modeled.

A special note here that my office, UAP fabricated Rumors of War just last year. It was installed in Times Square, with big efforts by my colleague Emily Johnson among many others, where Rakia and I saw it before it headed to its permanent home in front of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond Virginia.


Bayard Rustin: Queer Leadership is in the History of Civil Rights for ALL

On Tuesday, June 2nd, a group of friends and I drew up signs and met outside the West 4th subway stop in Manhattan. We were on our way to Stonewall to protest in support of black trans women leading the rally to bring attention to the recent killings of Nina Pop and Tony McDade among others. The signs read Black Trans Lives Matter!

While trans women’s pivotal role in the gay rights movement was not given appropriate recognition for some time, I’ve recently learned of a key gay figure in the Civil Rights movement who experience the same.

Bayard Rustin is credited with championing non-violence and having greatly impacted Martin Luther King Jr’s. approach to fight for their Civil Rights. Rustin even grew to become a key figure himself leading the March on Washington. You can hear his speech first hand here! He was sadly pushed out of the spotlight by other African American men when his sexuality and ex-communist past became controversial and used against the movement as a whole.

Rustin recognized the risk he presented and would eventually choose to take a less public role in order not to jeopardize the movement. It is with great pride, that albeit posthumously, Bayard Rustin was awarded the presidential medal of honor by President Obama in 2013.

In this article from PBS about Rustin, a few quotes stand out for me:
“We need in every community a group of angelic troublemakers,” he wrote after returning to the States (from India frollowing Ghandi’s death).”

“I know now that for me sex must be sublimated if I am to live with myself and in this world longer,” 

While remaining out of the spotlight, Rustin played a critical role in introducing King to Gandhi’s teachings while writing publicity materials and organizing carpools.

Rustin experienced one of the lowest points in his career in 1960, … Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. of New York, angry that Rustin and King were planning a march outside the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, warned King that if he did not drop Rustin, Powell would tell the press King and Rustin were gay lovers. Regardless of the fact that Powell had concocted the charge for his own malicious reasons, King, in one of his weaker moments, called off the march and put distance between himself and Rustin, who reluctantly resigned from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which was led by King. For that King “lost much moral credit … in the eyes of the young,” the writer James Baldwin wrote in Harper’s magazine. Fortunately for us, Rustin put the movement ahead of this vicious personal slight.

Many of the images I found come from this article.


Women’s Suffragist Movement Clashes Over Race Again in Commemorative Sculpture

“A planned Central Park monument to women’s suffrage, featuring Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, was criticized for excluding black women. So Sojourner Truth was added to the design — then more than 20 academics objected in a letter that the grouping would be misleading because the white suffragists’ rhetoric “treated black intelligence and capability in a manner that Truth opposed.”’ as reported.

The design of the monument will feature Truth speaking, Anthony “bringing documentation of injustice” and Stanton poised to write, said Meredith Bergmann, the sculptor selected to make the statue. (source)

Despite the controversy and concerns for historical misinterpretations, the statue’s redesign has moved forward to my knowledge. I still wonder during these times of civil unrest if there may be yet another ‘update’ to the statue. Though I may also have inside scoop that it has reached a milestone in its fabrication. The jury is still out.


NYC Commissions New Monuments to Women & Marginalized Groups Amid Protest

From the She Built NYC site, “Currently, only five out of New York City’s 150 statues of historic figures depict women. She Built NYC aims to rectify that imbalance and ensure that New York’s full story is told for generations to come.”

The first set of women to be honored, include the jazz singer Billie Holiday; the abortion rights activist Helen Rodríguez Trías; the 19th-century African-American civil rights leader Elizabeth Jennings Graham; the transgender advocates Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson; and Shirley Chisholm, who I wrote above previously in Issue #3 of Neon Fabrications.

Yet amid the good intentions, controversy ensues. Chazz Palminteri, an Italian-American actor, called Mayor Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, who is black and leading the city’s efforts, racist. McCray did not prioritize honoring Mother Cabrini in the first wave of monuments after Cabrini was voted most popular in a public poll.

There has also been controversy over replacing a bronze statue in Central Park honoring J. Marion Sims, the 19th-century “father of gynecology” who conducted experimental operations on female slaves. Celebrated black artist, Simone Leigh (pictured above) chose to ultimately removed her proposal to replace the statue of Sims after public outcry for black artist Vinnie Bagwell’s design (pictured below). In the end the public praised Bagwell’s more traditional figure of an angel be erected.


Design for Maya Angelou Sculpture Given Alternate White Glove Treatment in San Francisco

Lava Thomas was selected as the winner for her sculpture of Maya Angelou that would sit oustide the Sann Francisco Public Library. It was designed as a bronze book with Angelou’s face cast on the front cover and a quote by her on the back.

Only after it was selected did leaders request that it be completely redesigned in a style unaligned with the artist, initiative or sentiment of the project. Lava Thomas cast her disappointment at the panel’s meeting by saying:

“In the ordinance, statue is crossed out and artwork is replaced…I can’t believe that we’re here two months later with a suggestion that this project be closed, and a conservative, traditional statue in the manner of European figurative traditional monuments that confederate and colonial monuments are based on, that we are here discussing this in this city, San Francisco, that’s known for its progressive politics.”

Amid our current social unrest, designers have battled for justice in their own practices across the country. It is in these various forms that change is coming. And change it must!


“We need in every community a group of angelic troublemakers.”
– Bayard Rustin

Rustin at age 71 in LondonÕs Trafalgar Square, 1983. Photo by Walter Naegle courtesy Estate of Bayard Rustin