The Monumental Turn: Considering the Reappropriation of Monument Aesthetics

Installation and academic paper written in collaboration with political scientist, Dr. Jordie Davies in Chicago

Presented at the American Studies Association Conference, November 2022, in New Orleans, LA.

Expanding on Capital Formation, Projections, we explore monuments’ projections of state power, state sanctioned memory, and the possibilities for subversion in each of our contexts. The installation includes projections onto monuments in a Chicago, where we had first met. Even in the act of projection, we practice the reclamation of power, offering a minor challenge to otherwise permanent structures bound by time and memory– engaging with the monument’s transient existence. This project opens a conversation into the global project of state art, as we explore parallels in the American and Indian contexts.

One of Singh’s projections reads: "Let’s repeat the definition of an empire" and is projected onto a barrier that also serves as a sign for the Delhi Police. We re-project these lines in Chicago, on the Buckingham Memorial fountain, installed in honor of Charles Buckingham in one of the most-visited parts of the city, overlooking lake Michigan and in full view of Chicago’s business center. The projected line implies capitalist power and domination. The bright lights of industry in the background echo this sentiment.

One of Singh’s Capital Formation, projections includes a projection onto her childhood home, outfitted with colonial style columns. Built in the aftermath of Independence, the house is one in a series of constructions that were created by the first generation of Indians that had survived the partition of India, where architecture was used as a tool for communicating economic power to society through the appropriation of European architecture. Unbefitting Delhli’s weather, the house stands with a facade of Tuscan-like non-structural, decorative columns. On it, Singh’s projected line reads “The memory of the afterwards, the reformer, reformatted, repurposed, reappropriated.” The house relies on the associative connotations carried out by its architecture.

We replicate Singh’s projection onto the Columbus plinth in Chicago, at the site of the struggle between police and protesters. This piece echoes the ways states deploy monuments to bolster their myths and the state government to protect them, affirming governing authority and power, perpetuating Columbus as a national myth for public consumption.

Humayun’s Tomb was built in the 1560s, the first grand mausoleum that was created by the Mughal dynasty which inspired several major architectural innovations. The technicalities of its creation, the treatment and use of labor, the extraction of resources for its construction however are all points of contention. The Mughals, who are arguably seen as colonizers, produced architectural monuments to their memory that today, 450 years later, is a UNESCO Heritage site which is widely visited by tourists. Here, in 2019, Singh projected the words, “How do you recognize yourself between the ornaments of authority? The paint may have dried but the warning is still there.”

Davies replicates these words onto Alison Saar’s Monument to the Great Migration in Chicago, raised in 1994. This question of recognition is projected onto a monument to Black Americans fleeing racist violence. It begs the question: is this monument subverting the current order, or does it search for belonging, ask permission for celebration and ornamentation? The monument is located on 26th Place and King Drive, in a designated Black neighborhood, the historic Bronzeville.

We hope to have a chance to share more about our thoughts and their conclusion in the paper once we are able to share the same with you. At the moment, these images and texts stand as fragments of it.

We would like to give a special thank you to Neomi Rao for being Davies' Chicago projection accomplice/ photographer.