FORWARD: Issue #2: Transportation

Public Art Now

Leading Voices Sharing Public Art of the Moment

It is heartening to think about projects that moved public art forward as we emerge from an extraordinary year in which everything seemingly stopped moving. In considering works to include in this collection, I found inspiration in those that felt dually of the moment and of the future. Each project in this collection is a poetic prompt for a conversation of relevance in 2020. Each is also a road map for aesthetic interventions toward a just future — where public art is a vehicle for truth, collaboration, action, and liberation. —Tricia Heuring, guest curator

Image: As part of the In Plain Sight skywriting project, NO CAGES, NO JAULAS, by Beatriz Cortez, appeared in the sky over the Los Angeles Immigration Court on Olive Street on July 3, 2020. Photo by Dee Gonzalez, part of In Plain Sight, a coalition of 80 artists fighting immigrant detention and the culture of incarceration conceived of by Cassils and rafa esparza.

Watch the first Public Art Now series conversation

Self-Initiated Public Art: A 'Public Art Now' Conversation with Muna Malik The first event in our Public Art Now series, from within the digital publication and conversation series FORWARD by Forecast Public Art. This talk features public artist Muna Malik in conversation with Public Art Now guest curator, Tricia Heuring, facilitated by Mallory Rukhsana Nezam. Malik discusses her public art project, Blessing of the Boats, featured in the inaugural Public Art Now collection. Blessing of the Boats asks viewers a question: “We have an opportunity to set sail towards a new future; what society would you build and how do we get there?” The artist shares more about her process of building this self-initiated public art project from the ground up, and joins Heuring in reflections on the first Public Art Now collection. This conversation took place on Thursday, March 18, 2021

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01: Illuminations Set Sail

Photos courtesy Muna Malik.

Blessing of the Boats: River to River

by Muna Malik

New York, August 2020

Muna Malik’s Blessing of the Boats asks viewers a question: “We have an opportunity to set sail towards a new future; what society would you build and how do we get there?” Participants fold a piece of paper into an origami boat and write their answers on it. When they push the paper boats through openings in the reflective surface of the large illuminated boat, the messages are added to the structure, and over time it fills with the responses.
Malik, whose work focuses on capturing poetic imagery and narratives from women of color and refugees, presents Blessing of the Boats as a dialogue on the role of individuals within a greater community, and a way to instigate conversations about the global refugee crisis and other social and political issues. The installation is temporary; it will reappear in several other cities, inviting diverse communities to contribute to the conversation. The project imagines public art as participatory in the most expansive sense: as a global conversation.
Photos courtesy Muna Malik.

02: Skywriting for Justice

NO CAGES NO JAULAS, by Beatriz Cortez, appeared in the sky over the Los Angeles Immigration Court on Olive Street on July 3, 2020. Photo by Dee Gonzalez, part of In Plain Sight, a coalition of 80 artists fighting immigrant detention and the culture of incarceration conceived of by Cassils and rafa esparza

In Plain Sight

by multiple artists

Various sites across the U.S., July 2020

In 2020, July 4th celebrations were significantly different from previous ones, given COVID-19. Beyond the lack of parties and other gatherings, the nation was openly grappling with deeply rooted racism and systemic inequality. Hegemonic notions of patriotism and citizenship seemed exceptionally troubling in light of an immigration crisis and the inhumane practices of the Trump administration. Over the holiday weekend, a group of organizers—including artist Hank Willis Thomas, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, and lawyer Chase Strangio—asked a group of artists who either identify as immigrants or whose parents were immigrants to contribute words or phrases that speak to the immigration issues in the U.S. In Plain Sight included messages by 80 of these artists, written in midair by skywriting planes dubbed Skytypers. Phrases in 20 different languages were “skytyped” above ICE detention facilities, immigration courthouses, processing centers, and former internment camps in the U.S. Each message ended with #XMAP, which, when plugged into social media, directed users to an online map showing the ICE facilities closest to them.
The simple and direct artwork, appearing in the sky above, is an act of representation and celebration that also makes a strong statement about justice. It uses the huge canvas of our common airspace to illuminate realities for which we all bear responsibility and which we should not ignore.
In a photo shoot for Vogue, Cassils and Rafa Esparza pose in front of a plane used to skywrite for the In Plain Sight campaign. Photo by Chris Mastro, part of In Plain Sight, a coalition of 80 artists fighting immigrant detention and the culture of incarceration conceived of by Cassils and rafa esparza.
The message by SHAME #DEFUNDHATE #XMAP by Cassils, appeared over the Geo Group Headquarters on July 3, 2020. Photo by Robin Black, part of In Plain Sight, a coalition of 80 artists fighting immigrant detention and the culture of incarceration conceived of by Cassils and rafa esparza.
LA FRONTERA NOS CRUZO by artist Rafa Esparza appeared over the U.S.-Mexico beach border on Juy 3, 2020. Photo by Twitter user @bbbb_ritttt, part of In Plain Sight, a coalition of 80 artists fighting immigrant detention and the culture of incarceration conceived of by Cassils and rafa esparza.

03: A COVID Call to Awareness

Partners who collaborated to bring Carrie Mae Weems' message to the Northern Berkshire/Southern Vermont region include MASS MoCA, Clark Art Institute, Bennington Museum, ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance, Usdan Gallery at Bennington College, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA), Williams College Museum of Art, and the Town of Williamstown. These billboards were displayed outside of MASS MoCA. Photo courtesy MASS MoCA.


by Carrie Mae Weems

Various cities across the U.S., including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Detroit, Durham, Nashville, Philadelphia, Sarasota, and Savannah, 2020–2021

With her RESIST COVID | TAKE 6! campaign, Carrie Mae Weems promotes awareness of the greater impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities, a result of economic and social inequities that keep public health campaigns from properly addressing and reaching minority groups. She combines her iconic photographic style with bold text and graphics, skillfully blending the visual styles of the PSA and the art installation. Appearing in public spaces in 10 U.S. cities, the campaign also thanks frontline workers and encouraged people to vote in the 2020 elections. The project is remarkable for the number of forms it has taken—Weems’ messages and images have appeared on billboards, social media, banners, posters, window clings, electronic billboards, yard signs, paper bags, magnets, buttons, church fans, and more. The multiplicity reflects the urgency and gravity of the fact that we are fighting two pandemics—COVID-19 and systemic racism.
The project demonstrates the impact grassroots strategies can have when they’re deployed by a highly regarded practitioner of contemporary American art. Seen in galleries and museums worldwide, Weems’s photographic work is famous for its ability to evoke empathy as it tells the stories of women and people of color. With this project, she adapts the aesthetics and tactics of her gallery work for the public realm.
Top: These posters were displayed in downtown Bennington by the Bennington Museum and Bennington College. Photo © Usdan Gallery, Bennington College. Middle: This banner at Williams College Museum of Art was installed in January 2021. Photo courtesy Williams College Museum of Art. Bottom: A banner in the campaign was displayed on the Visual and Performing Arts Center at Bennington College, home to the Usdan Gallery. Photo © Usdan Gallery, Bennington College.

04: A Mural Movement

Taylan De Johnette (left) and Ashley Koudou (right) outside the Seward Co-op on 38th Street in Minneapolis in June 2020. Photo by Awa Mally.

Plywood Murals

by emerging BIPOC artists

Minneapolis and other U.S. cities, June 2020

During protests in response to police brutality against Black Americans, murals honoring George Floyd appeared in the summer of 2020. Business corridors were boarded up with plywood for protection during the uprisings. Because of the pandemic, many businesses remained closed and the boards became blank canvases for expressions of solidarity, remembrance, and commitment to equality, justice, and the Black Lives Matter movement. With so many new surfaces to cover and so much time to do so, hundreds of artists found themselves called to create. Floyd’s death resonated far beyond Minneapolis; murals were painted in many places in the U.S. and as far away as Syria and Kenya. The artwork memorialized not only Floyd but other victims of police killings, including Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade.
Mural-making provided much-needed opportunities for artists unable to show work in gallery spaces because of the pandemic. The movement included artists who had not previously identified themselves as street artists or muralists; some had never painted murals before. As a result, a diverse mix of aesthetic approaches and collaborative styles appeared on the plywood canvases. Aware of the valuable opportunities created by the murals and recognizing the trauma that sparked their creation, artist communities advocated for Black and POC artists. Mural-making underscored conversations about equity in the broader art world. When the plywood boards came down, the murals on them became portable art objects, inspiring new dialogues about the ownership, preservation, and archiving of protest art.
Maiya Lea Hartman at the Seward Co-op on 38th Street in Minneapolis, in June 2020. Photo by Awa Mally.
Aurum Oro paints a bench with Myc Daz on University Avenue between Rice and Dale Streets in Saint Paul, in June 2020. Photo by Awa Mally.
Antione Jenkins (antz.creationz) and Josh Browne use markers on a plywood mural in Minneapolis, in June 2020. Photo by Awa Mally.
Leslie Barlow paints on a plywood mural outside the Seward Co-op in Minneapolis, in June 2020. Photo by Awa Mally.

05: Freestanding Symbols of Change

A figure in Mutu’s series on display outside the Met. Photo by Tricia Heuring.

The NewOnes, will free Us

by Wangechi Mutu

Metropolitan Museum of Art façade, New York, September 2019–January 2021

Museums, which are often located in populous urban areas, provide some of the most accessible public art, from sculpture gardens to temporary installations on their grounds or exterior walls. Case in point: Kenyan-born artist Wangechi Mutu enlivened the façade of the Met from September 2019 through January 2021, the first such intervention since the building was completed in 1902. Collectively titled The NewOnes, will free Us, the four works are inspired by classical marble or wooden caryatids, female figures that act as columns, holding up entablatures or other architectural elements. Mutu’s figures resist the concept of women as structural supports for architecture, or any other sexist expression of the female as load-bearer.
Mutu’s installation is particularly poignant given the current dialogue about representations of gender and race in public art; an intersectional feminist view of art history is central to understanding the future of historical monuments and sculptural forms. From pedestals high above Fifth Avenue, Mutu’s sculptures offer a non-patriarchal, non-white presence in an institutional space that’s also public space. Though small in relation to the massive building, the figures have the power to signal a turning of the tide.
Artist Interview with Wangechi Mutu on The NewOnes, will free Us, by Met Exhibitions.
Photo by Allison Meier / flickr / CC-BY-SA-2.0.

Tricia Heuring (she/her) is a Thai American curator, arts organizer, and educator. As a co-founder of Public Functionary, a multidisciplinary arts platform, she supports emerging artists of color to develop resources, studio practice, and exhibitions. Advocating for systemic change and equity in the MSP arts sector has put her in collaboration with organizations that focus on grant-making, public art, and social justice. As an educator, she has taught curatorial practice and cultural leadership at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and St. Mary’s University. She was born in Bangkok, Thailand, raised as a resident of Cairo, Egypt, and currently lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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FORWARD: Issue #2