Mabel O. Wilson on Monuments and Historical Research




This podcast is the first episode of a mini-series that focuses on the question of polemical monuments as recent focal points of protests following the murder of George Floyd and numerous other Black Americans in the United States. These interventions on monuments raise important preservation questions: Whose histories have we systematically honored in the past, whose perspectives are neglected or erased, and what can we do as preservationists to address these imbalances?

Anna Gasha and Shuyi Yin, Ph.D. students in GSAPP’s Historic Preservation Program, speak with Mabel O. Wilson, who is the Nancy and George Rupp Professor of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, a Professor in African American and African Diasporic Studies, and the Associate Director of the Institute for Research in African American Studies (IRAAS) at Columbia University. At GSAPP she also co-directs the Global Africa Lab.

Professor Wilson’s works investigate space, politics, and cultural memory in Black America and race and modern architecture in a wide range of forms from academic scholarship, curatorial projects, artworks, to design projects. Professor Wilson reveals the ways that anti-Black racism shapes the built environment along with the ways that Blackness creates spaces of imagination, refusal, and desire in her third book, Building Race and Nation: Slavery and Dispossessions Influence on American Civic Architecture, and Race and Modern Architecture, a volume she co-edited with Irene Cheng and Charles L. Davis II.

This episode discusses the controversy surrounding the Theodore Roosevelt sculpture outside the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. Then, based on Wilson’s essay in the book Race and Modern Architecture, they discuss the issues of missing evidence and records, and the historical contextualization of monuments. The conversation ends with Wilson’s reflections on her participation in the design of the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at the University of Virginia, and exploring the possibilities of designing new memorials and monuments.


Source by Columbia GSAPP

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