Indiana history journal examines public art and controversy

Art, race and space fill the most recent issue of the Indiana Magazine of History. In an issue guest-edited by Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis public historian Modupe Labode, leading scholars of public art and urban life show how art can reveal fault lines in modern society.

The March 2014 issue features four articles reflecting on the artwork that prompted IUPUI’s recent symposium, “Art, Race and Space”: artist Fred Wilson’s proposed “E Pluribus Unum” sculpture, which re-imagined a new identity for the freed slave portrayed on the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in downtown Indianapolis. Wilson’s work, commissioned for the city’s Cultural Trail, was ultimately canceled after long and intense public controversy.

In her introduction to this special issue, Labode, who helped organize the original symposium, revisits the contentious history of Wilson’s proposal. She reviews the public struggles over the freedman image and its placement in the city center, and the tensions of race, class and public space discussed by symposium members. Wilson himself follows with a discussion of monuments and memorials that have inspired his work and comments on some of his installations for museums in New York City and Savannah, Ga.

Art historian Bridget Cooks looks at Wilson’s work in light of the conflicting ideals of preservation and activism. Geographers Owen Dwyer and Matthew McCourt examine the history of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail and consider the relationship of the public spaces and public art along its eight miles.

Two articles examine other public artworks that have spoken to and created public controversy outside Indiana. Art historian Renée Ater studies the public outcry that followed the commissioning by Rocky Mount, N.C., of a statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Historian Erika Doss discusses a Duluth, Minn., public memorial to three young black men who were lynched in that city in 1920, arguing that such public art can “generate profound responses of renewal and reconciliation.”

The Indiana Magazine of History is published quarterly by the history department of Indiana University Bloomington. For general information on the articles or to order a copy of the issue, contact the editorial office at 812-855-4139.