This is it! City just picked the design team for its new Shirley Chisholm statue at Prospect Park

By Faye Penn

Acclaimed artists Amanda Williams and Olalekan Jeyifous were just selected to design the City’s much-anticipated monument to Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the New York congresswoman whose trailblazing political legacy is being honored as part of a new public-arts initiative known as She Built NYC.

The project is a milestone in New York City, where just five out of 150 monuments of historic figures represent women.

She Built NYC is addressing that gap. Launched last year, the program aims to commission monuments throughout the city that honor visionary women whose leadership helped to define New York while making an impact far beyond its municipal boundaries.

The monument of Chisholm is the first to be commissioned under the She Built NYC campaign.

It will be located at the Parkside entrance to Prospect Park by the end of 2020, after the design from Williams and Jeyifous, called Our Destiny, Our Democracy, is refined and proceeds through additional community input and public review.

“She built NYC is transforming public art in our City by honoring the contributions of women who helped build and shape it. Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s dynamic leadership and activism continues to inspire all who learn her story and her service deserves public recognition. This artwork will be bright, bold, and makes a statement – just like Chisholm herself,” said First Lady Chirlane McCray, who launched the She Built NYC campaign last spring with former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen.

In addition to the Shirley Chisholm monument, four more She Built NYC statues were recently announced, bringing the total number of monuments to five, or one per borough.

The selection process

Williams and Jeyifous are trained architects and visual artists who have exhibited widely. Among her many honors, Williams is a member of the multidisciplinary team at the Obama Presidential Center; Jeyifous has designed large-scale installations at Barclay’s Arena in Brooklyn and Twitter’s Manhattan headquarters.

Their collaboration continues a design-selection process that began when the Department of Cultural Affairs Percent for Art program received dozens of design proposals from celebrated artists. After the department selected five final ideas, invited the public to weigh in on concepts that ranged from a monumental bronze representation of Chisholm’s iconic profile to shape-shifting columns arranged in forms inspired by Yoruba traditions.

“The Williams and Jeyifous monument best fits the subject and the environment,” wrote one New Yorker who submitted feedback. “I love the idea of Chisholm, the Capitol, and sunlight engaging the experience.”

Filigree 2.0: Lace-like steel resembles traditional park gates and deftly integrates Shirley Chisholm’s image with the U.S. Capitol.

The winning plan

Williams and Jeyifous have proposed a 40-foot lace-like steel installation that deftly blends Chisholm’s image with the U.S. Capitol dome. Ornate patterns of vegetation, reminiscent of traditional park gates, highlight the monument’s Prospect Park location.

Set in a recessed amphitheater with a scattering of bronzed seats that extend to the park, the monument is designed to draw people into its space, thus reflecting Chisholm’s legacy of seeking out and advocating for marginalized groups in her fight for equality, justice, and inclusion. Some seats will be adorned with markers engraved with the names of other pioneering women; others will be blank so that, in the future, they can be inscribed with the names of women and girls who have yet to make their impact on its history.

Summarizing their design concept, Williams and Jeyifous stated: “Shirley Chisholm wanted to be remembered as a catalyst for change in America and her name and image have become synonymous with possibility. Our project celebrates her legacy as a civil servant who ‘left the door open’ to make room for others to follow in her path toward equity and a place in our country’s political landscape. We have designed a monument in which her iconic visage can be immediately recognizable while also equally portraying the power, beauty, and dimensionality of her contributions to our democracy.”

The artists will now work with NYC Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) and the Percent for Art to refine design with input from the Parks Department, Prospect Park Alliance, and community stakeholders. The refined proposal will then be presented to local community boards for further comment and review, before being submitted to the City’s Public Design Commission in the fall. Up to $1 million will be available for the commissioning of the monument.

About the artists

Amanda Williams has exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Arts Club of Chicago. She is a member of the multidisciplinary team for the Obama Presidential Center, an Efroymson Family Contemporary Arts Fellow, a 2018 Ford Fellow, 2018 United States Artists Fellow, and a recipient of the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters & Sculptors Grants.

Olalekan Jeyifous is a Nigerian-American visual artist and trained architect who creates narratives using different modes of representation. He has exhibited at MoMA, the Studio Museum in Harlem, Vitra Design Museum, and the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Jeyifous has won fellowships from New York Foundation for the Arts and grants from the New York State Council on the Arts and the Brooklyn Arts Council.

Seats leading to Prospect Park will invite pedestrians to come into and engage with the monument.