Ten Queer Reimaginings of New York's 'Gay Liberation Monument'
Groundbreaking queer artists step up to reinvigorate an ode to LGBTQ history.
In 1979, on the tenth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, New York City commissioned artist George Segal to create a monument to gay liberation. The resulting four statues, made up of two same-sex couples, were done in his traditional, solemn style of white plaster cast in bronze. They were so controversial that despite being completed in 1980, they weren't installed in their permanent home on Christopher Street until 1992.
While striking in their time, the statues today feel anodyne—a safer, softer version of the spark of liberation ignited by Stonewall itself. As art, they may still hold up, but as a public memorial, they fail to express a modern vision of queer liberation.
We asked ten artists and artist groups to imagine updates to these statues, compiled here into a series named Squatting on Stonewall. Working in conversation with Segal's original monument, they created new pieces to speak to the movement for queer liberation as they see it today. Some provided trenchant critiques of our current moment, while others created memorials to those we have lost, or dreams of what our movement and world could be. There is humor, rage, passion, betrayal, devotion, love, and anxiety to be found among these images—a wide gamut of gestures that might begin to define fresh contours for an expansive and diverse community.
Squatting on Stonewall transforms the expression of our liberation from a single statement spoken in one voice into the vital and complicated conversation it actually is.
David Zinn is a Tony-nominated set and costume designer for theater and opera, including the musical FUN HOME, based on Alison Bechdel's graphic novel.
"I propose something akin to the fury and power of the original Stonewall riot—the anger that sparked it and the movement it unleashed. Flaming, literally. Giving warmth and light. And dangerous as hell."
The Lover's Grotto
Nayland Blake is an artist and educator. His is the chair of the ICP/Bard MFA, and has exhibited in numerous venues around the world.
"The Lover's Grotto is an attempt to answer the question 'How can a monument be engendering of further activity rather than a mute husk of previous activity?' It is an augmented reality monument based on the traditions of rock gardens and scholar's stones, that takes the form of open source software that allows mobile device users to activate a site by manipulating data."
Rainbows Are Just Refracted White Light
DarkMatter is a trans South Asian artist collaboration between Alok Vaid-Menon and Janani Balasubramanian.
"Rainbows are just a trick of the light. They make us forget the storm is still happening."
Adejoke Tugbiyele is an award-winning queer artist/activist born in Brooklyn, New York in 1977 to Nigerian immigrants. She weaves complex ideas about race, gender, sexuality, spirituality, and migration. Her sculptural process combines fibrous materials around light metal structures, producing abstract figurative forms with universal elements of androgyny, armor, flight, seduction, myth, and mystery. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum, the Newark Museum, and in significant private collections in the United States and Hong Kong.
"Together reminds us about the power of LOVE, which knows no socially constructed boundaries, including race and sexuality. It also builds on the history of Stonewall and is sensitive to the broader, complex nature of the LGBTIQ movement."
Ken Gonzales-Day's interdisciplinary and conceptually-grounded projects consider the history of photography, the construction of race, and the limits of representational systems ranging from the lynching photograph to museum display. Gonzales-Day's photographs have been exhibited at the Generali Foundation, The Getty, LACMA, LAXART, New Museum, Palais de Tokyo, and Smithsonian Institution, among others. His books include Lynching in the West: 1850-1935 (Duke) and Profiled (LACMA). Gonzales-Day is a professor at Scripps College and is represented by Luis De Jesus Los Angeles.
"I wanted to imagine a monument that sought to acknowledge the difficulties and often limited life chances experienced by many in the LGBT community. The piece sought to formally recognize the site's relationship to the 'Stonewall Riot' of 1969, but also to speak to the larger issues facing the LGBT community globally. The billboard component of the installation was included to address the specific role of ACT UP and the Silence = Death campaign, which was so formative to my own experience of coming out in New York City in the late 1980s."
Sunday in the Park with George – A Lesbian Melodrama
Carrie Moyer is a painter and writer who teaches at Hunter College. She is represented by DC Moore Gallery in New York City. Sheila Pepe is an artist currently preparing for the June opening of Put me down gently: a place to be – Made in conversation with Sondra Perry and the anticipated summer heat at Diverseworks in Houston, Texas.
"By definition, public sculpture is the art of the common denominator. Our project, Sunday in the Park with George – A Lesbian Melodrama, revisits the social position of lesbians now that we've received a modicum of visibility when we look and behave like everybody else. Now married with an infant and mainstream jobs, our ladies suffer the predictable bumps and bruises of living in the new (New York) 'village.' Or are we witnessing, up close and personal, a schism between two women driven apart by the encroachments of heteronormativity into the intimate lives of lesbians and lesbian culture at large."
Carlos Motta is a multi-disciplinary artist whose work draws upon political history in an attempt to create counter-narratives that recognize suppressed histories, communities, and identities. His work is known for its engagement with histories of queer culture and activism and for its insistence that the politics of sex and gender represent an opportunity to articulate definite positions against social and political injustice. In 2015 he will have solo exhibitions at Mercer Union, Toronto; PPOW Gallery, New York; Pérez Art Museum (PAMM), Miami; Hordaland Kunstsenter, Bergen; MALBA, Buenos Aires; and Instituto de Visión, Bogotá.
"When I think about the Gay Liberation Monument at Christopher Street Park I think of silence... And I think about the failure to memorialize the lives of the victims of institutional abuse on our own terms. No one used words better than Audre Lorde. Her strategy to transform: 'silence into language and action' pointed to the violence, neglect, and erasures of history and gave us the tools to speak up, get empowered, act, and create our own accounts of history. For this piece I chose to ignore George Segal's figures, pretend they are not there and to give Lorde's words the power to represent communities that may have been rendered visible yet are continuously oppressed by failed acts of representation."
LJ Roberts is an artist and writer living in Brooklyn, New York and Joshua Tree, California. Translation by Marco Antonio Huerta
"to block surveillance
to thwart criminalization
a partial fingerprint
a reclaimed architecture
an unrecognizable body
let's scheme and imagine together"
Study / Revision for an Embrace
Paul Mpagi Sepuya is a Los Angeles based artist whose work is founded in concerns of photography and portraiture.
"I propose an alternative to the touch so hesitant in Segal's original sculpture."
Fire Starters at the Unicorn Roast (What Happened to the Queer Radical)
Cassils is listed by the Huffington Post as "one of ten transgender artists who are changing the landscape of contemporary art." Born in Montreal, based in Los Angeles and represented by Ronald Feldman Fine Arts in New York City, Cassils works in intense body-based performance and watercolor. Cathy Davies is a designer, information architect, and all around wizard. Currently she casts spells as the senior user experience designer at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
"This illustration depicts a haunting: Miss Major, Angela Davis, Sylvia Rivera, David Wonarowicz, Audre Lorde, and Marsha P. Johnson gather around a roasting and flayed unicorn. The George Segal monument is used as kindling to stoke the flames of their revolutionary spirit."
This article is part of the VICE series The New Queer. Read the rest of the package here.