New York City Chooses the Artists for a Monument to Shirley Chisholm, America’s First Black Congresswoman

  • Art News

A monument to former New York Representative Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress, will be designed by artists Amanda Williams and Olalekan Jeyifous. The duo was chosen through the city’s Percent for Art program after receiving five proposals, including designs from several well-known artists such as Mickalene Thomas and Firelei Báez.

The 40-foot-tall steel sculpture, titled Our Destiny, Our Democracy, combines two images: a portrait of Chisholm and the silhouette of the US capitol building, each of which becomes visible depending on the viewer’s vantage point. The work will sit in the center of an amphitheater-like space at the southeast corner of Prospect Park, where some chairs will be engraved with the names of the other women who have been elected to Congress, while leaving space for others still to come.

“Our project celebrates Shirley Chisholm’s legacy as a civil servant who ‘left the door open’ to make room for others to follow in her path toward equity and a place in our country’s political landscape. We have designed a monument in which her iconic visage can be immediately recognizable while also equally portraying the power, beauty, and dimensionality of her contributions to our democracy,” said Williams and Jeyifous in a statement.

New York City is on a mission to build more monuments to women. Currently, it has only honored five historic women with statues, compared to 145 of men (a problem other cities share). In order to help rectify this imbalance, the government undertook an evaluation of the city’s landmarks and monuments, particularly those that have sparked controversy.

Amanda Williams & Olalekan Jeyifous, <em>Our Destiny, Our Democracy</em>, the winning design for the Shirley Chisholm monument in Prospect Park. Rendering courtesy of She Built NYC

Amanda Williams & Olalekan Jeyifous, Our Destiny, Our Democracy, the winning design for the Shirley Chisholm monument in Prospect Park. Rendering courtesy of She Built NYC.

As a result, First Lady Chirlane McCray and former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen announced that the city would launch a new initiative, women.nyc, which included a plan to build public monuments dedicated to important women in New York City’s history.

After a public nomination process that garnered nearly 2,000 suggestions, Chisholm was selected as the first commission for the monument initiative, called She Built NYC. The program has since planned four additional statues—one for each of the five boroughs—honoring Billie Holiday, Helen Rodríguez Trías, Elizabeth Jennings Graham, and Katherine Walker.

Separately, in Central Park, which currently does not have a single statue of a real-life woman, suffragette leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony will soon get a monument from the Parks Department.

Amanda Williams & Olalekan Jeyifous, <em>Our Destiny, Our Democracy</em>, the winning design for the Shirley Chisholm monument in Prospect Park. Rendering courtesy of She Built NYCAmanda Williams & Olalekan Jeyifous, Our Destiny, Our Democracy, the winning design for the Shirley Chisholm monument in Prospect Park. Rendering courtesy of She Built NYC

The Chisholm monument, which has a $1 million budget, is on track to be unveiled in 2020. The project will be overseen by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and Percent for Art, with input from the Parks Department and the Prospect Park Alliance.

“Amanda Williams and Olalekan Jeyifous have put forward a fittingly bold vision for how to honor the remarkable Shirley Chisholm,” said Cultural Affairs commissioner Tom Finkelpearl in a statement. “Next year, New York City will have a new monument that is as multifaceted as Chisholm herself, marking an important step toward making our public spaces better reflect the people who have made our city great.”

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