Destinies Made Manifest: Reading the Washington Mall
Continuously shaped and remade over the last 200 years, the Washington National Mall is laid out as a series of processional spaces, which commemorate and symbolize the triumphs and tribulations of the nation (Michael Bednar, L'Enfants Legacy, 2006). Unfettered access to lawmakers and freedom of movement underlay the Mall's conception, echoing the ideals of democracy (and social and economic mobility) so cherished by the revolutionaries. In actuality, this complex has come to represent official state narratives, constructed in order to reflect the American project of democracy as unambiguous, exceptional, and eternal. nnIn my representation of the Mall* Martin Luther Kings I Have a Dream inscription on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial reads in sharp contrast to the fuzzy Washington obelisk in the distance. Conceived to bear triumphal witness to American justice, the Lincoln Memorial and King inscription are also reminders that the American Dream, initially built on the backs of slaves, was not possible for most African Americans, fully 100 years after the Civil War was fought to ensure equal rights. Juxtaposed with our most important monument to civil rights is the memorial to the 120,000 Japanese Americans interned from 1942-45, moved (in my version of the Mall) from its obscure plot north of the Capitol grounds to stand with the other monuments. Here, the names of the ten American concentration camps (referred to as relocation centers) are writ large on pink granite walls, accompanied by their respective state locations and peak populations. Shaded by delicate cherry blossoms, it is a stark reminder of the greatest travesty of democracy since the Jim Crow laws.nnCarved into the black-green granite of the Korean War Memorial is another slippery reminder: Freedom Is Not Free. Given the costs of the Arms Race (and its fallout) accompanying the Korean War, it is difficult to calculate the cost of freedom. In yet another byproduct of the Cold War (and the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction) lies the deep cut of the Vietnam War Memorial wall, etched with the names of 58,261 lost in the pursuit of American freedom. nnI use the photographic strategies of framing, focus, and point of view in order to direct viewers toward a monument or a particular inscription. In isolation, the detail becomes amplified, and subject to scrutiny, analysis, and even doubt. Further, synthesizing the visual language of photography, historical research, and the illusion of stone, I monumentalize histories that might not see the light of day--at least on the Mall--through construction. A Century of Military Interventions/Peace Is Our Profession addresses American Imperialism, telling a fuller story about who we are, filling in some of the gaps between what we tell ourselves, and what we do.nnCompelling viewers to reflect upon the selective process of history making, I draw from multiple sources in order to underline the causal relationship between the desire for freedom and the military acts committed to ensure it (for some). Reversing the practice of erasure that political elites exercise in official history making, my itinerary inserts some of the missing chapters in the history of the United States while examining the process of monument making and its role in the construction of a national identity.nn*The selection submitted is part of a body of work presently comprised of 22 images.
I Have A Dream, Lincoln Memorial
Japanese American Memorial
Freedom Is Not Free, Korean War Memorial
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
A Century of Military Interventions
Become an SPE Partner
The SPE Partners program offers three packages which provide flexible opportunities for schools, businesses, and nonprofit organizations to subsidize faculty, staff, students, and broader community participation in SPE.
Exhibit with SPE!
Learn more about sponsor & exhibitor opportunities for the 56th Annual Conference in Cleveland, OH!