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September 23, 2021

Monumental Tour features sculptures examining themes from Black history

Four temporary art installations can be found throughout Center City through January

Arts & Culture Sculpture
Monumental Tour Courtesy/Albert Yee

Monumental Tour features four sculptures, including one outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, that examine various Black history themes, including colonization, oppression and privilege.

The traveling Monumental Tour landed in Philadelphia this week, bringing art that honors African American history to iconic landmarks across the city.

Sculptures from Arthur Jafa, Coby Kennedy, Christopher Myers and Hank Willis Thomas will be on display until Jan. 31 at four locations near the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Delaware River waterfront.

Kindred Arts, the tour organizers, said the works examine themes of colonization, oppression, privilege, Black middle-class labor and Black pride.

The sculptures delve into various aspects of the African American experience, "from the first slaves brought over in the 16th century to the present-day prison pipeline, and the struggle of liberation in between," according to a press release.

Philadelphia is the sixth stop on the nationwide tour, but this marks the first time that the four sculptures are being displayed at the same time. 

The tour also will showcase Julian Francis Abele, Philadelphia's first African American architect who helped design iconic buildings like The Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Michael Spain, director of education at the Center for Architecture and Design, will host a walking audio tour through all of the featured sculptures.

Here is a look at the featured sculptures:

All Power to All People Hank Willis ThomasCourtesy/Albert Yee

'All Power to All People,' by Hank Willis Thomas is located on Eakins Oval, near the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

"All Power to All People"

Hank Willis Thomas' sculpture, "All Power to All People," is a 28-foot tall Afro pick with the Black Power salute emerging from the handle. Its title is a reference to the Black Panther Party slogan.

Thomas, a conceptual artist, said the piece is a symbol of community, strength, perseverance, comradeship and belonging. He has had work exhibited across the country and abroad.

The sculpture is on display at Eakins Oval, 2451 Benjamin Franklin Parkway. 

Caliban's Hands Christopher MyersCourtesy/Albert Yee

'Caliban's Hands' by Christopher Myers is a reference to Shakespeare's 'The Tempest,' which involved themes of colonization and servitude.

"Caliban's Hands"

"Caliban's Hands," by Christopher Myers is a sculpture of two silver hands attached at the wrist, sitting on a stone slab atop a wooden box.

Myers said his sculpture is symbolic of the indigenous cultures suppressed by colonization. Its name is a reference to a character from Shakespeare's "The Tempest," widely considered a story about European colonization. The character of Caliban often is cited in modern-day discussions about colonization. 

Myers is a New York City-based artist, writer and illustrator of young-adult literature. 

The sculpture is located at Shakespeare Park on the Ben Franklin Parkway. 

Kalief Browder the Box Coby KennedyCourtesy/Albert Yee

'Kalief Browder the Box' by Coby Kennedy is a piece of protest art that critiques the American incarceration system.

"Kalief Browder the Box" 

Coby Kennedy's sculpture, "Kalief Browder the Box," is a steel and glass sculpture that replicates the dimensions of a solitary confinement cell. The exterior has texts and graphs that critique the American incarceration system.

Kennedy, an artist and industrial conceptual designer, earned a master's degree from Columbia University and a bachelor's degree from Pratt Institute's Industrial Design program. 

The sculpture is on display at Thomas Paine Plaza, 1401 John F. Kennedy Blvd.

Big Wheel IV Arthur JafaCourtesy/Albert Yee

'Big Wheel IV' by Arthur Jafa is a collection of four large tires covered in chains. It can be found on Cherry Street Pier.

"Big Wheel IV"

Arthur Jafa's "Big Wheel IV" is an installation of four monster-truck sized tires laced with a mesh of iron chain. The seven-foot tires are a reference to the deindustrialization and transition into the service economy that dashed Black ambitions.

The piece also features a loop of Teddy Pendergrass ballads, a product of late-industrial America.

Jafa is a filmmaker, cinematographer and co-founder of motion picture studio TNEG. He was born in Mississippi and currently lives in Los Angeles.

The sculpture can be found at Cherry Street Pier, 121 N. Columbus Blvd. 

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