‘The structure the labor the foundation the escape the pause’
Simmons’ trio of sculptures combine massive steel abstract forms with landscapes of text culled from historical documents that are foundational to centuries of racial caste construction, white supremacy and disenfranchisement in the United States.
Excerpts from the 1865 Civil War military command, Special Field Orders no. 15, highlight a pivotal historical moment when the U.S. government briefly granted land and federal protections to Black Americans upon their emancipation from the American system of slavery.
This real historical anchor (known colloquially as 40 Acres And A Mule) flickers between likeness (in message) and contrast (in linguistic style) with the second text, which is a woven amalgamation of contemporary calls for reparations to the descendants of American Slavery.
Together the works draw upon systemic promises thus far denied while embracing the sustainability of the revolutionary impulse through the centering of policy language and the centuries long calls for repair from the Black American community.
The language is tied directly to our current revolutionary moment and its links to the past, present and future. These works offer access to some of the foundational language of long-standing governmental policies that, if revisited advocated for and implemented would monumentally (fundamentally) shift the American material landscape and the social conditions we live within presently.
Artist & Curator Conversation
Simmons spoke about her installation with Socrates’ Curator, Jess Wilcox, via Zoom and Facebook Live on Friday, September 11 at 5pm.
The Brooklyn Rail
Marcia E. Vetroq interviewed Xaviera Simmons for the May 2020 issue.
Portrait of Xaviera Simmons by Phong Bui
RAIL: You’re participating, with Jeffrey Gibson and Paul Ramírez Jonas, in ‘MONUMENTS NOW,’ which Socrates Sculpture Park has characterized as an exhibition that seeks to address the role of monuments in society and commemorate underrepresented narratives.
SIMMONS: For me, first of all, I think at this point we have to regard language as labor, right? And we have to continue shifting the narrative. When I think about monuments, it’s not that indigenous or First Nations people or the descendants of American chattel slavery have never had monuments of any kind. It’s that white America, particularly as represented by the local, state, and federal governments, has terrorized the impulse of monumentality out of those groups, in which my own ancestry rests. I think that it’s important to frame it that way, because there is an impulse, it seems, across cultures and generations and time, to imagine, dream, or construct bigger than the self. I’m sure that has to do with group myths and spiritual practices and relationships to land and community, and other ideas pertaining to the body, personhood, humanity, or reaching toward something beyond ourselves. I think that whiteness has worked consistently as the force of terror and the police state in the United States, and therefore it has worked against monumental thinking when it comes to the first people who inhabited this place and to mixed race, quote-unquote Black people. I think it takes labor to undo not only this ideology but also the language that forms who gets to construct the monument. Then, hopefully, you can see the monument anew and the idea of these monuments at Socrates not as someone being given the opportunity to do something that a group has never been able to do before, but almost like a natural release or an impulse that is a part of the kind of thinking in which we are all indoctrinated, especially in the West. The pressure of oppression and suppression has built up in the United States, and it can’t really hold any longer. I don’t know if White people comprehend that their very privileges rest on the pressure felt by the others. This pressure has been maintained by physical, legal, and violent forces across the spectrum of our existence here. And this exhibition is one way to reduce the pressure just a little bit.
The artist also thanks the Art for Justice Fund for their lasting support of her work.