Artist and architectural historian Azra Aksamija recently had an article published in The Scholar & Feminist Online, a webjournal published three times a year by the Barnard Center for Research on Women. In it, Aksamija talks her winning submission for, and subsequent withdrawal from, the Cambridge Nineteenth Amendment Centennial public art project.
An excerpt from her essay is below:
From Birmingham, Alabama to Antwerp, Belgium, the recent removal and defacing of monuments to Confederate and imperialist leaders has marked the most recent wave in our long-lasting stream of struggles over haunting legacies. Some believe that removing these statues is an attempt to erase or cover up history. For others, it represents a means to confront violence, racism, and oppression in history and in the present. This brief reflection addresses identity politics intrinsic to the process of building new monuments today, pointing to the possibilities and limits of art to facilitate social change. I will approach this reflection through the lens of a recent public art commission for a monument commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which I won, but withdrew from before anything was built.
In November 2019, I received an email from the Director of Public Art and Exhibitions notifying me that I have been selected as one of four finalists for the Cambridge Nineteenth Amendment Centennial public art project. This art competition had been initiated by the City of Cambridge to commemorate Cambridge Suffragettes with a new public artwork to be constructed on the historic site of the Cambridge Common….
Yet, instead of the expected public announcement and a contract for the promised $300,000 commission, I faced a month-long period of waiting for the project to be legally launched by the City. Facing criticism over insufficient inclusion of BIPOC artists in this public art competition, the City was hesitant to proceed with a contract and was looking for a solution (one of the four finalists could be considered an artist of color, but no Black and/or Indigenous artists had been among the finalists).
In the subsequent few weeks, a series of constructive exchanges with the Cambridge Arts Council led to an exploration of various scenarios for how the problems at stake could be addressed. Working from the conceptual and implementation aspect of the project, I was reflecting and thinking about the competition and the various options for how the project could be changed or developed.
Read the full piece at The Scholar & Feminist Online.
The Scholar and Feminist Online: Issue 17.1 –
Transnational Feminisms: Contexts, Topics, Forms
Guest Edited by Attiya Ahmad and Catherine Sameh
With contributions from Azra Akšamija, Azza Basarudin, Abigail Boggs, Simten Coşar, Harjant Gill, Ferhan Güloğlu, Sherine Hafez, Neetu Khanna, Shweta Krishnan, Shayoni Mitra, Liz Montegary, and Khanum Shaikh
About the Issue
This issue of Scholar and Feminist Online, “Transnational Feminisms: Contexts, Topics, Forms,” co-edited by Attiya Ahmad and Catherine Sameh, emerged out of a 2014 conference held at Barnard College to mark the twentieth anniversary of Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan’s seminal work, Scattered Hegemonies: Postmodernity and Transnational Feminist Practices.
This issue captures the dynamism and major themes of the conference, reanimating the provocations of Scattered Hegemonies. Contributors locate the importance of this genealogy in feminist thought and elaborate upon its outgrowths. Through essays, visual materials, and videos, this issue demonstrates the rippling effects of transnational feminist frameworks on scholarship across time.