When Kimberli first extended the invitation to work with UAM to produce American MONUMENT, I immediately said yes. Without pause. Without second thought for three main reasons:
First, because we have a decade-long professional relationship in which I have witnessed Kimberli’s support of artists who work politically and her ability to hold space and facilitate difficult content and conflict in a leadership position in the contemporary art world.
The second reason I said yes was because I was charged to hear her vision for the new institution that she was to steward, which was to pointedly disrupt white supremacy; I wanted to support this effort.
The third and most important reason for wanting to work with Kimberli and the UAM to launch this work was the context of UAM itself–which was also what Kimberli recognized as important–the university. As an educator, I would be remiss not to say that the idea that we could build a pedagogical tool both for and with students, was extremely attractive to me. The context of a university art museum for this work allows the intersection of art and cultural production with the thinking and learning community. I saw the potential for a unique collaboration in creating the monument in proximity to young people who are are actively discovering and staking out their place in the world, young people who are trying to understand what power and authority is. The emerging citizenry from this institution has the potential for great impact and I wanted to build a useful tool with and for them.
So my saying yes was strategic and intentional. I said yes to both Kimberli Meyer and CalState Long Beach. I am committed to all that that YES signifies.
(woods PLAYS RECORD)
So I need to address the elephant in the room which is Kimberli Meyer’s absence.
American MONUMENT is an ongoing process of research, presentation, and think-tanking. This is its first iteration. It is conceived to have many more, to travel throughout the country each with a larger grid, a larger subset of records to examine.
The stage in the process of this iteration’s creation, what we are experiencing in the space this moment, is the result of a state-led disruption of the monument, caused by the abrupt dismissal of Director Kimberli Meyer six days ago.
Cal State Long Beach removed my primary and most committed collaborator and institutional steward, someone integral to the existence of American MONUMENT. The institution’s utter disregard for not only the “artwork” but for the work that is greater than ART is hard to understate.
To remove a key partner of this project from the directorship of the museum at this critical point and actually expect this project to continue indicates a profound lack of understanding about what this “work” actually is. It shows utter disregard for what the labor that manifests it actually is. There is a mythology around art production, that authorship of a work is by a singular, lone artist and that that artist is at the center of art production. I am sure this idea was partially part of this ill informed decision.
I need to make clear that American MONUMENT is not that type of artwork. I need to make visible what the work actually is. This is not an exhibition of objects. This is not a show of conceptual play. American MONUMENT is a transformative process that wants to tackle the culture of police brutality through cultural production. It can only exist through collective authorship.
American MONUMENT is emergent. It is conceptualized to shift over time through a co-creative process that addresses state and institutional violence. Since its inception, it has shifted week-to-week, responding to the variables at play: the denials of open records requests, the newest police murder, the needs of identified stakeholders and co-creators, and my own capacity to deeply submerge myself in the details of over 200 cases of police brutality. Again, the WORK is process-based and responsive. The WORK moves to end anti-blackness.
And so today, there is a new response that must be articulated. A response to the violent act of Kimberli Meyer’s termination 6 days before this project launches. I have come to this place after being here for a week putting forth a good faith effort to launch this work and coming to understand the implicit statement of this sort of institutional violence, in which the stewards of Cal State Long Beach have attempted to suffocate THE WORK. I have been putting forth this effort despite knowing ultimately what the university’s position is to this project because I am not only committed to the work of American MONUMENT, but I am compelled to address and participate in the collective effort to end police brutality; this particular way of working is an extension of that need.
It has become clear to me that I cannot just pivot and continue working with injury, but i must respond to the conditions created by the current institution that extended the invitation to host this iteration of American MONUMENT:
The University Art Museum, College of the Arts, and Cal State Long Beach, have kneecapped a project that is focusing on black lives and police brutality. They have killed a leadership initiative whose focus was to not only address white supremacy but to disrupt it. They have rejected the invitation for collective authorship of this effort.
As it stands, the UAM is not capable of hosting this iteration of American MONUMENT. American MONUMENT can only resume its co-creative process when restored, which can only happen with Kimberli Meyer retained as director of UAM.
And so with great disappointment AND profound sadness, I hereby declare the process to continue building American MONUMENT paused.
It is paused. Not pulled. But paused. It is paused because I am calling for true partnership. I want to offer the university the chance to engage in a restorative process and demonstrate their commitment to the work of antiracism, an impulse that is evident by the choice to hire Kimberli Meyer who declared upfront that this was the mission and vision for her tenure. I am calling for the university to engage in a restorative process and to take a public stance on ending police brutality and the culture and practice of anti-blackness. It is my understanding that there is an appeal process for this termination and that Kimberli will engage it.
And so we, the witnesses, await the results of those procedures.
A copy of this letter shall be installed in the museum for the duration of this process to mark this moment of pause.
Kimberli Meyer’s remarks for the launch of American MONUMENT presented in her absence by lauren woods before woods gave the above statement:
We would like to acknowledge that the land we meet on today is the traditional lands occupied by the Tongva people, and that we respect their spiritual relationship with their Country. We also acknowledge the Tongva people as the traditional custodians of the Tovaangar and the Los Angeles region, and that their cultural heritage and beliefs continue to have significance to the living Tongva people today.
In 2018, many universities in the US talk about inclusivity, diversity, access, and equity; CSULB is among them. To truly embrace inclusivity, we must be willing to confront the everyday violence perpetrated on non-white people.
Racism is structural and rhizomatic. Each and every one of us is formed by and contributes to white supremacy. Once we realize that, our innocence is lost and we must act with intention. If we really want inclusion, we are obliged to understand who is not included – because they are dead, or caged. We are called upon to disrupt the unjust system.
I realize this is very hard to do, but art may help us. At its best, art has the power to redeem, to lift us out of fear and ignorance, engaging our sense of beauty and our desire to transform.
American MONUMENT is that artwork.
Its ability to transform is now up to you.
We all owe a deep and lasting gratitude for the brilliant lauren woods. I am honored to be her partner in American MONUMENT and you should be humbled by her generosity and luminosity.
Special shout out to Nadin Adam.
American MONUMENT: 25/2018