The Challenges of Commissioning Memorials: Symbolic Actions, Political Pressures, and Visual Literacy
PAD-sponsored session at CAA 2020
Proposals due to chairs on July 23, 2019. (Additional submission guidelines)
Since the events of Charlottesville, memorials have been a primary focus of local and national news, and public art historians have increasingly been called upon to serve on civic memorial commissions and selection panels. Based upon our experiences in New York and Boston, we have become increasingly aware of the problematics of practices that are often driven by symbolic actions, political pressures, and visual literacy—or the lack thereof.
Despite their significance memorials do not actually ameliorate the sociopolitical issues prompting the controversies that surround them, though these controversies can dramatically increase opportunities for civic engagement and advance social justice issues. Political pressures may stem from those in official positions of power as well as local individuals and community and special interest groups directly affected by or strongly supportive of these issues. Although visual literacy is crucial to interpreting visual forms in coherent ways or considering their impact on the public spaces in which they will be sited, such literacy is often in short supply among memorial selection committee members.
We are interested in submissions of case studies that address and analyze one or all of these factors, as well as theoretical approaches that encapsulate them in the context of memory studies. Best practices are sorely needed in this ongoing enterprise, which shows no sign of abating in the current political climate; hopefully this panel may help jump-start their formation.