The City of Alexandria has unveiled the concept designs for the next temporary art installation coming to Alexandria’s Waterfront Park in 2020. Wrought, Knit, Labors, Legacies by Olalekan Jeyifous is the second in the Site See: New Views in Old Town annual public art series, which will be on display from March to November 2020.
Jeyifous’ concept frames Alexandria’s African American history through the lens of the city’s industrial and merchant history from the 17th to 20th centuries. Once a prosperous port city that was home to one of the largest domestic slave trading firms in the country, Alexandria was a major center for shipping and manufacturing with an economy inextricably tied to the work of enslaved and free African Americans.
Wrought, Knit, Labors, Legacies seeks to stitch Alexandria’s story together, featuring symbols that represent Alexandria’s merchant and manufacturing history, including factories, tobacco warehouses, breweries and railways. The ground mural will incorporate African American quilting and textile traditions, which are historically tied to storytelling and oral tradition. When viewed as a whole, the pattern will become an abstract grid or map, with the manufacturing icons appearing throughout. From this colorful and rich surface, four large figures will face the water. Ornate metal profiles will be wrapped in sculptural seating platforms that are illuminated in low light.
“I consider art in the public realm to be a humble and noble endeavor,” said Jeyifous. “It provides an opportunity to bring art to non-traditional places. We can explore our histories, acknowledge mythologies of resilience and resistance, and even ponder the futures of cities and public spaces. My hope is that the artwork resonates in ways that inspire and elicit engagement and dialogue.”
About the Title
“Wrought” means shaped, hammered, or manufactured, a reference to the sculptures in the installation. It holds dual meaning, also signifying transformation through adversity, struggle, or hardship.
“Knit” means to weave, stitch, or unite, a reference to the ground mural that is inspired by African-American narrative quilts. For this installation, it also alludes to the histories and futures Alexandria’s communities, inextricably intertwined.
“Labors” and “Legacies” employ multiple meanings from slave labor, to industrial labor, to the general work it takes for communities to evolve and grow. They also speak to the cultural inheritances that shape and define the city as it continues to evolve.
About Site See: New Views in Old Town
Alexandria’s Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities, through its Division of Arts and Culture, works to boost Alexandria’s reputation as an arts destination with world-class artwork that is unlike anything that can be experienced in the region.
The Site See series highlights Waterfront Park as a civic space, fostering community engagement and interactions with the temporary installations. The artwork is informed by the historic waterfront and neighboring community. The compelling, unique art attracts repeat visits from the metropolitan area and beyond. The inaugural installation, Mirror Mirror by SOFTlab, drew thousands of people to Alexandria in 2019.
“Alexandria prides itself on being a distinct and vibrant community with flourishing arts and culture,” said City Manager Mark Jinks. “The Site See public art series is a key asset that showcases our waterfront, open spaces and gathering places. We look forward to this next chapter with Olalekan’s installation.”
Jeyifous was commissioned to create an original site-specific work inspired by Alexandria. He was selected by a task force and approved by the Alexandria Commission for the Arts. Based in Brooklyn, he, along with Amanda Williams, are co-creating the monument for Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm in Brooklyn, to be unveiled in 2020. He previously created public art at the 2017 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California, Cleveland’s Public Square and Starbucks’ flagship store in Chicago.
About the Artist
Olalekan Jeyifous received a bachelor’s of architecture degree from Cornell University. His work has been exhibited at the Studio Museum in Harlem, the MoMA, the Vitra Design Museum and the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain. He received grants and fellowships from the New York Foundation of the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts and the Brooklyn Arts Council. He has completed artist residencies with the Headlands Center for the Arts, Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts and the Drawing Center’s Open Sessions program, and was named a Wilder Green Fellow at the MacDowell Colony. Learn more at vigilism.com.
(via the City of Alexandria’s Office of the Arts. Photo courtesy of the City of Alexandria’s Office of the Arts.)