E Pluribus Unum, meaning "out of many, one", is a large scale re-conceptualization from the Soldiers and Sailors monument in downtown Indianapolis. In this monument the only African American depicted is a recently freed slave, reaching up in thanks to the white civil war soldiers who fought for his freedom. In other words, the monument continues the portrayal of the valiant soldiers who 'rescued' the slaves, and the African American as helpless and downtrodden, instead of a powerful fighter in their freedom, and crucial role in building America.
Fred Wilson, a very important contemporary artist based in New York City, wants to change this sentiment with E Pluribus Unum. In keeping with his practice, Wilson wants to use the original African American from the Soldiers and Sailors monument, reconstituting him to become an emblem of strength and pride for those of African heritage. By rotating the figure and adding the African flags, the original powerless figure, which has been on view at the center of Indianapolis since 1901, would be transformed into a monument contemporary society could stand behind.
Or so I thought. Many members of the Indianapolis community have been outraged by the proposed sculpture; claiming that the image serves only as a reminder of slavery. Ironically, the public outcry sounds like it should be directed at the Solders and Sailors monument, and not Wilson's piece, which is doing exactly the opposite of embracing racist imagery. Wilson is revisiting a difficult past, but a past nobody can ignore, a past that is still visible throughout America.
This sculpture raises difficult questions and it reminds us all of a painful period of our country's history. However, what better way to confront this history and to move forward as a community than to reexamine the iconic imagery within Indianapolis. We cannot back down from these issues and we cannot forget our past. I believe that Indiana needs a monument like this and I would be proud to say my home capital purchased a work as powerful as Wilson's.
Now the Joyce Foundation has promised $50,000 to the project if the Central Indiana Community Foundation follows through. (MAN) Yet the CICF still hesitates, waiting for more dialog from the community. Tyler Green says here, and I agree with him, "The choice for CICF and Payne is straightforward: Does it want to enable nationally-important art that enhances the stature of the city it serves? Or will CICF kill the project — the smartest, most ambitious public art project currently under consideration in America — in pursuit of a false unanimity?" What Indianapolis cannot do is let this amazing project fall through the cracks out of fear and misunderstanding. Indiana, as true with all states, could use something to stir-up discussions on race. I hope you all share your comments with me, write letters to the press, contact the CICF, and also talk with the community. As much as I want this sculpture to happen, a growing dialog about the arts in
Indianapolis taking place on a national level is an exciting start.