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America’s Monuments, Reimagined for a More Just Future

Artist: Rindon Johnson

Project: Returning Ancestral Land to the Oceti Sakowin

Location: South Dakota, Prospect Park, Brooklyn and Elsewhere

Replaces or Reclaims: The Black Hills mountain Range and Surrounding Area

WHEN I WAS ASKED to propose a monument, my first impulse was to sand away the faces on Mount Rushmore, but this form of reclamation reifies the violence of settler colonialism and dispossession. Instead of further altering the landscape, the Black Hills should be returned to the Oceti Sakowin — the proper name for the Great Sioux Nation — so that they, as the ancestral people of that land, could decide what to do about those faces. A gesture of this scale and magnitude is an act of intention. A monument must be redefined. A monument is an act of intention. By returning the Black Hills, the people of the United States would set the intention to change our government’s behavior toward Indigenous people and begin to implement large-scale acts of land secession and monetary reparations. In the vein of these gestures, we should ask ourselves daily: What future are we working toward?

So much healing needs to happen, so many lives must be acknowledged. As one individual, a Black American trans man, how could I suggest a single monument in solidarity with all people of the United States as we try to heal the impossibly deep wounds of hundreds of years of slavery, the genocide of Native Americans, the killing of BIPOC and trans people, mass economic injustice and the caging of children? If a monument is then an act of intention, I could create a series of monuments that would act as mirrors and frames for deep, constant contemplation. As we intend to grow and change over time, so too should our physical monuments. Our monuments can help us see how far we have come.

In keeping with this aspiration of intention, I chose materials that can exist harmoniously with a warming planet. Using carbon-capture technology to inject excess atmospheric carbon into volcanic basalt, I propose the creation of a series of large spherical boulders that will eventually grow moss, lichen, plants and flowers. These multivalent forms could be installed in many U.S. landscapes, as there is nowhere that white supremacy has not touched. With the placement of each of these carbon-sink stones, we could measure our own progress toward the creation of a more just society. Before a stone can be placed in a public setting, a concrete action must be taken. For example, funds could be distributed more fairly based on the needs of the community, a polluted marshland could be rehabilitated, detained children could rejoin their parents. With each act, the community sets a new course. White supremacy must be weeded out of our lives, our discourse and ways of being. We must name the violence against BIPOC, trans people and those wishing to immigrate to the United States. These atrocities must stop, and the stones will keep us accountable. Here is a stone placed in the lake at Prospect Park, Brooklyn, a marker of our collective intent. — Rindon Johnson, July 2020

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