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News from the Monuments & Memory class

In the special topics Art History course, Monuments and Memory: a Field Guide, Professors Jennifer Lyons and Hope Childers have been very excited to teach on a subject that has such a long history, and yet is so very current.

In addition to examining a wide range of historical monuments such as the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan, and the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC, the course focused on recent debates emerging across the US around Confederate monuments, especially following the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Students also gained exposure to a wide variety of perspectives about the history and role of monuments and museums, thanks to a handful of invited guest speakers throughout the term.

Alfred University Archivist & Librarian Laurie Lounsberry Meehan kicked off the semester with a close look at the King Alfred monument at the heart of campus. Students heard about the long discussion and decision-making process around the initial commissioning of the statue, to its creation by sculptor and faculty member Bill Underhill.

Two guests in February focused on the material, scale and history of monuments, beginning with a visit by our own Professor Coral Lambert (Sculpture and Dimensional Studies). Her talk focused on the history of equestrian monuments, the demands of bronze casting, and the concept of speculative or temporary monuments, such as The Fourth Plinth project in London (UK).

Then, Rochester-based artist and Alfred alumna Olivia Kim (BFA 2001) presented on her recent long-running project of creating numerous sculptures of the famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass. These were installed throughout the city in 2018, which was the bicentennial of his birth. She spoke about how her figural work has been grounded in the study of movement and dance, and also about the challenges of creating a public work of art.

In April the class was excited to host La Tanya Autry and Mike Murawski, who founded Museums are Not Neutral in 2017. They talked about their campaign for equity in the museum field and related institutions. Their work has taken them to the heart of current debates around how we record, collect, memorialize, and display our nation's history in museums and related cultural institutions.

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