New York City approves revised design for long-awaited Shirley Chisholm monument

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The Public Design Commission of New York City has approved revised designs for a monument to Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005), the first Black woman ever elected to US Congress, in 1968. A political trailblazer for the rights of women and people of colour, Chisholm is considered a symbol of liberation within and outside her Brooklyn neighbourhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant; her status as the first woman or Black person to seek a presidential nomination in 1972 cemented her legacy as a Democratic dynamo far ahead of her time.

The Public Design Commission, which oversees all permanent works of art in the city, unanimously approved the latest version of the green and yellow design proposed by artists Amanda Williams and Olalekan B. Jeyifous on 17 July, The New York Times reported. The current iteration is eight feet shorter than previous designs, in compliance with accessibility laws. It will stand proudly at the Parkside entrance to Prospect Park in Brooklyn.

Plans for a monument honouring Chisholm were first announced in November 2018 as part of the She Built NYC initiative spearheaded by then-mayor Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlaine McCray. She Built NYC committed $10m to commission public art that celebrates women’s history in New York. The artists responsible for Chilsholm’s monument were chosen in April 2019, with an initial timeline projecting the piece would be installed in 2020.

The pandemic delayed the installation’s progress, however, and the change of administration following the election of Eric Adams further stalled the planned memorialisation of figures including Billie Holiday, Marsha P. Johnson and Katherine Walker, although the administration has insisted these projects will soon be underway. Prior to the launch of the She Built NYC initiative, only five statues in New York City were devoted to historic women.

Rendering of the revised Shirley Chisholm monument recently approved by New York’s city council Courtesy Olalekan B. Jeyifous and Amanda Williams

In their presentation to the Public Design Commission, Williams and Jeyifous characterised their proposal—which combines Chisholm’s silhouette with that of the Capitol building in Washington, DC—as a metaphor for Chisholm’s disruption of traditionally white, male spaces. “This trailblazing woman was not diminutive and this monument reflects how Chisholm’s collaborative ideals were larger than herself,” the artists said in a statement. The presentation also included images of plants from Barbados, where Chisholm spent four years during her early childhood with her maternal grandmother.

When Chisholm ran for president, her campaign slogan was “unbought and unbossed”, a nod to her determination and distaste for the corruption for which New York politics remain notorious. During the public hearing on the monument design, Jimmy Van Bramer, a former member of New York’s city council and current member of the Public Arts Commission, said: “This is the most exciting project that I have seen since I have been a commissioner… I would imagine Shirley Chisholm would love that idea.”

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