A rendering of Vanessa German's "Of Thee We Sing," part of "Beyond Granite: Pulling Together," presented by Monument Lab (Courtesy photo)
A rendering of Vanessa German's "Of Thee We Sing," part of "Beyond Granite: Pulling Together," presented by Monument Lab (Courtesy photo)

A groundbreaking art exhibition, featuring six celebrated artists, is set to transform the National Mall this week, as Monument Lab collaborates with the Trust for the National Mall to present “Beyond Granite: Pulling Together.” This unprecedented initiative seeks to redefine the narratives engraved in the heart of the nation’s capital and beyond, pushing the boundaries of traditional monumentality and memory-making.

A rendering of Derrick Adams' "America's Playground," part of "Beyond Granite : Pulling Together" (Courtesy photo)
A rendering of Derrick Adams’ “America’s Playground,” part of “Beyond Granite : Pulling Together” (Courtesy photo)

Running from Aug. 18 through Sept. 18, the exhibition delves into the heart of America’s untold stories, showcasing prototype monuments that respond to the curators’ compelling question: “What stories remain untold on the National Mall?” Curated by Dr. Paul Farber, director and founder of Monument Lab and Pulitzer Prize winner Dr. Salamishah Tillet, the project’s mission aligns with the monumental vision of educator and civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune, who saw such monuments as symbols of triumph and unity.

“The six artists really rose to the occasion and responded to that question [of what stories remain untold on the National Mall]. And that provocation, with such beautiful works, really interrogates both American history and reflects back to us new stories that haven’t been told,” said Pulitzer Prize winner Dr. Salamishah Tillet, co-curator of “Beyond Granite.”

At the core of “Beyond Granite: Pulling Together,” lies the 1939 Easter Sunday performance of renowned Black opera singer Marian Anderson, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. 

Anderson’s landmark performance, prompted by segregation that barred her from Constitution Hall, resonates as an embodiment of hope, triumph, and unity. This historical performance inspired the furtherance of Anderson and Bethune’s legacies with the exhibition’s exploration of non-traditionally memorialized events. Such events include Indigenous legacies, histories of enslavement, civil rights, LGBTQ activism, immigration pathways, environmental justice, and other narratives of American struggle and resilience being placed on the grounds of the National Mall.

“There are so many different origin stories and angering points we could have gone to, but it was the 1939 Marion Anderson performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, against the backdrop of a segregated D.C., that reminded us: While the Mall is well-known and iconic for the built structures, it’s people who have risen to make their mark on that space [that are really important].”

The exhibit features trailblazing work, including Derrick Adams’ interactive “America’s Playground: DC;” Tiffany Chung’s “For the Living,” which casts light on overlooked histories; Ashon T. Crawley’s “Homegoing,” which uncovers narratives of migration; Vanessa German’s “Of Thee We Sing,” a celebration of diversity; Paul Ramírez Jonas’ “Let Freedom Ring,” which captures the essence of freedom; and Wendy Red Star’s “The Soil You See…,” which invites reflection on ancestral heritage.

German’s “Of Thee We Sing,” allows viewers to embrace diversity and shared humanity. 

“The National Mall lacks a tribute to the human heart. The reason people sacrifice is because they have a heart of love, courage, and patriotism,” German told The Informer. 

The artist’s installation became a canvas for personal narratives interwoven with historical figures, fostering dialogue and connection. On social media, German encouraged people to make wishes, both for themselves and others, which will be included in the live performance art happening on Saturday, Aug. 19.

The impact of “Beyond Granite: Pulling Together,” has garnered attention far and wide, and the exhibition’s emphasis on inclusivity and equity in monument-making has received notable support from organizations such as The Mellon Foundation.

To assemble such a transformative exhibition, Monument Lab collaborated with esteemed partners including the Trust for the National Mall, National Capital Planning Commission, and the National Park Service. The endeavor also benefited from the expertise of the Curatorial Advisory Board, featuring luminaries like Kevin Gover from the Smithsonian Institution, Toni L. Griffin of Harvard Graduate School of Design, and Maria del Carmen Montoya of Corcoran School of Art and Design.

“Beyond Granite: Pulling Together” extends an invitation to all, embracing a new era of monumentality that intertwines historical interpretation, storytelling, and civic engagement. This captivating exhibition serves as a powerful reminder of America’s diverse past and present, while laying the foundation for a more inclusive and enlightened future.

As the National Mall becomes a canvas for stories that long deserved recognition, “Beyond Granite: Pulling Together,” etches its own indelible mark on the fabric of American memory.

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *