Philadelphia Faces Criticism for Commissioning a Harriet Tubman Statue From a White Artist


Wesley Wofford’s “Harriet Tubman: The Journey to Freedom” (image by Amaury Laporte through Flickr)

The metropolis of Philadelphia is drawing criticism for commissioning Wesley Wofford, a White sculptor, to full a statue of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, as very first noted by the Philadelphia Inquirer. Established to be unveiled in fall 2023, the monument will be dependent on an existing sculpture by the identical artist titled “Harriet Tubman: The Journey to Liberty,” which was temporarily put in exterior Philadelphia’s Metropolis Corridor involving January and March and has traveled to 10 metropolitan areas as a result considerably with twelve further towns on the docket. But some say town officials did not do adequate to solicit local community feedback ahead of the fee.

Marguerite Anglin, community art director at the Philadelphia Office environment of Arts, Society and the Resourceful Economic system (OACCE), described in a virtual community conference on June 15 that the non permanent “Journey to Freedom” sculpture experienced activated these an overwhelmingly beneficial response that Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney right away backed funding for Wofford to develop a web page-specific sculpture depicting Tubman. “It will represent a single of the city’s very first general public artworks honoring a historic African-American woman figure,” she claimed.

During the conference — which was meant to supply comments from Philadelphians on what was most crucial to them about Tubman and what tales they required Wofford’s sculpture to notify — lots of lodged complaints about what they viewed as an opaque commissioning process and expressed a desire that the artist be Black. 

“I’m not in guidance of this artist doing the do the job. Absolutely nothing individual versus him, but just the truth that I feel it should be an African American undertaking this operate,” stated Leslie Garrett, a participant who spoke out all through the discussion session of the meeting. In response, Anglin stressed that the city’s approach normally will involve putting out an open up phone for submissions, in the course of the system of which underrepresented artists are prioritized — but that this public art fee was an exception, due to the “outpouring of love” for the temporary sculpture.

“Right or mistaken, we sense like it would be inappropriate for us to seek the services of a further artist — use a Black artist, or a unique artist — to recreate the expression of yet another artist,” Anglin explained. 

When asked for his reaction for the duration of the assembly, Wofford claimed that “the Underground Railroad was a biracial endeavor” even though acknowledging that each artists of color are underrepresented in community statuary and that monuments overwhelmingly continue on to portray white navy men.

But Wofford’s response instantly impressed rebukes from citizens at the conference, a person of whom pointed out that the Underground Railroad was principally a wrestle borne by Black persons. “When a sculptor’s up there on that ladder, both carving or executing the clay do the job, it is extremely vital for us as Black people to see that system consider place, especially amongst the younger people to inspire them to do those forms of processes — to be sculptors, to be monument makers,” Ogundipe Fayomi, one more contributor, remarked. 

At some factors, the conference became immediately confrontational, with some members pointedly directing their thoughts at Wofford. “If you assume or concur with your terms, not verbatim, that there really should be fairness in terms of Black artists or other artists, what could you do? Courageously, what could you do? You may well have to sit with that,” Dee Jones mentioned, suggesting that Wofford must stroll absent from the venture.

“Nana Harriet risked existence and limb to be no cost so that no one White individual would gain off her human being. And now we have someone white benefiting off of her,” Maisha Sullivan-Ongoza, a general public artist herself and a member of a collective referred to as Celebrating the Legacy of Nana Harriet Tubman — formed to mobilize versus the fee — said. 

By July 13, Philadelphia OACCE will be accumulating responses by way of a community input survey on its internet site, which the agency suggests will assistance inform the improvement of the greatest Tubman statue.


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