It’s official. After whittling down submissions to a shortlist of five artists, New York City has chosen Amanda Williams and Olalekan Jeyifous to build a monument to America’s first Black congresswoman, Shirley Chisholm.
Their proposal, titled “Our Destiny, Our Democracy,” is a dynamic, 40-foot-tall steel portrait of the Brooklyn representative. Designed as a multidimensional sculpture, it contains references to park vegetation and amphitheater-style seating inscribed with the names of women who have followed Chisholm’s political pathway.
Viewers will be unsurprised to learn that both Williams and Jeyifous studied architecture before working in the realm of public art. Separately, Williams’s work is more conceptual and quiet while Jeyifous’s is bold and bright. The Chisholm sculpture is an adept amalgam of the artists’ differences, proposing an unconventional image of the congresswoman in an electric palette of green and yellow.
“Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s dynamic leadership and activism continues to inspire all who learn her story and her service deserves public recognition. This artwork will be bright, bold, and makes a statement — just like Chisholm herself,” said First Lady Chirlane McCray in a statement
The Chisholm monument is the first commission by She Built NYC, an initiative aiming to rectify the public art gender gap by creating more statuary devoted to female historical figures. The process began in June 2018 with an open nominations call, which later funneled through an advisory committee that delivered a list of recommendations to municipal officials. Ultimately, First Lady Chirlaine McCray and then-Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen chose to honor Chisholm with the program’s first statue — a decision that ignored the committee’s recommendation that the program honor groups instead of individuals.
Last month, She Built NYC announced four new honorees who will receive statues in the future, including jazz singer Billie Holiday in Queens; Civil Rights leader Elizabeth Jennings Graham in Manhattan; public health pioneer Dr. Helen Rodríguez Trías in the Bronx; and lighthouse keeper Katherine Walker on Staten Island.
Currently, only 3 percent of the city’s sculptures honor female historical figures. That’s 5 monuments devoted to women compared to the 150 statues for men.
The Chisholm monument will be installed as a part of Prospect Park Alliance’s $9.5 million restoration of the Parkside and Ocean Avenue perimeters and entrance to the park. The artists were selected by a Percent for Art panel; now, they must refine their design before presenting it to the local community board and submitting it to the Public Design Commission later this year. Up to $1 million will be available for the commissioning monument through She Built NYC. The monument is anticipated for completion by the end of 2020 and will be installed at the Parkside entrance to Prospect Park in Brooklyn.