‘Monumental Tour’ for Black empowerment: An interview with Marsha Reid

Cinque Mubarak/Kindred Arts/Courtesy

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In early March, three monuments arrived in Oakland by truck: Hank Willis Thomas’s “All Power to All People,” Arthur Jafa’s “Big Wheel” and Kehinde Wiley’s “Rumors of War.”

The three statues were installed in two locations, 4400 Telegraph Avenue and Latham Square.

Oakland is the most recent stop in Kindred Arts’ “Monumental Tour,” an effort to bring symbols of Black empowerment to public spaces across the country.

In an interview with The Daily Californian, Marsha Reid, the director of Kindred Arts, discussed what it’s like to go on tour with three statues.

“We’re an interesting-looking circus,” Reid chuckled, describing the trucks that have been used to transport the monuments from prior installations in cities such as Harlem, Miami, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Washington DC.

Monuments do not ordinarily go on tour, but Kindred Arts has taken this unusual approach in order to reach communities often excluded from the world of the fine arts.

“My work is around space,” Reid explained. “Access to it, understanding of it, use of it and the ways that we’ve been excluded from it.”

Reid began Kindred Arts while working at the Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. She described seeing a disparity between the arts resources in Midtown, where she worked, and Harlem, where she was raising her family.

“Kindred began with two WOC asking New York City Parks for access to their pier,” Reid narrated. The goal was to plan free, outdoor arts and cultural events for communities that weren’t benefiting from the same institutional resources as the midtown crowd.

Reid’s community-centered, grassroots programming has been going on for eight years, but the scale and location have changed dramatically. Kindred Arts has brought the world of the fine arts into the public sphere, and expanded its programming from New York City parks to cities across the country.

Thomas’s “All Power to All People” was the first monument to go on the road. The statue is 28 feet tall and combines the Afro Pick with the Black Power salute. This was followed by Wiley’s “Rumors of War,” a tremendous equestrian statue challenging the racist history of American war monuments. The third, Jafa’s “Big Wheel,” is on the first leg of its journey with “Monumental Tour.” The statue consists of four monster truck tires suspended by metal chains, and speaks to the impacts of deindustrialization on the Black middle class.

Reid describes herself as “the moving person,” tasked with location-scouting, securing funding, transporting and installing the three monuments on site.

From Reid’s perspective, the biggest obstacle is, “Funding. If everything was funded, nothing would be a challenge. The next obstacle when you’re thinking about exhibiting in public spaces is access. All the spaces that might host a monument the size of ‘All Power’ are tied up with agencies. Maybe four or five different agencies have control over a public space … There’s power in space: in managing and owning it.”

But where traditional sources of grant funding failed to materialize and installation sites proved elusive, the local community stepped up.

“Black Joy Parade — Elisha Greenwell’s annual celebration of the joyfulness of our culture — came onboard quite quickly when we said out loud that we were coming to Oakland,” Reid remembered. “They said ‘this is where it (Wiley’s “Rumors of War”) should go: it’s town square.’”

Additional support came from Critical Resistance, For Freedoms and Artist As First Responder.

“That was such a godsend,” Reid said of her local cultural partners. “I got very fortunate with these locations.”

Reid’s commitment to public space is twofold: providing free access to the fine arts for historically under-served communities, and initiating conversations about racial justice and social change.

“There’s nothing scary about Black pride,” Reid said. “I think that facing these pieces actually helps engage people in that conversation. Nothing about pride in your ancestry, or culture or heritage should be terrifying. We’ve been socially conditioned to be scared or isolated from each other if we’re different.”

For Reid, every location is different, and her relationship with the three monuments changes with each new setting. She described the statues as spaces where community members could picnic and do yoga — reminiscent of the early days of Kindred Arts. She reflected on an anti-gun rally held in front of “Rumors of War” when the statue came to Philadelphia in the midst of riots. Reid even made a stop at Burning Man, describing the joy and delight she witnessed from participants in a predominantly white environment.

Reflecting on her role in “Monumental,” Reid returned to the traveling nature of the exhibition and the impact that art can have on social change.

“I’m not a museum,” Reid said. “Well, I am of sorts, but moving. … “All Power” was always going to be mobile, it wasn’t built to stay in one place. It has very important work to do.”

Blue Fay covers visual art. Contact him at [email protected].