By Ahmed Abukwaik | Contributing Writer
On Friday, March 25th, 2022, a symposium on Monuments and Public Art was held in Stahr Auditorium. The event hosted seven speakers: Yaroub Al-Obaidi, Graham Coreil-Allen, Tiffany Fryer, Joyce Kozloff, Olu Oguibe, Michael Rakowitz, and Sara Reisman. The group included artists, curators, art historians, and anthropologists whose work addresses heritage and tourism, diaspora and citizenship, justice, and social responsibility with case studies from Iraq, Germany, Mexico, and the United States.
The theme of the symposium was public arts and monuments with domestic and international dimensions. The seven presented their work and reflected on how art and history shape public conversations.
Each artist did an incredible job of presenting how their work breaks up the very predictable and common conversations surrounding public art. Discussion of the monuments at F&M, a conversation that flares up occasionally, is currently dormant in our campus dialogue. Typically discourse surrounding the monuments of John Marshall and Benjamin Franklin at F&M falls into two camps: “they are our namesakes— it’d ruin the college if we took them down” or “throw them in the Susquehanna.” The speakers brought to campus showcased how these discussions cannot be discussed on simple binary terms, and that we must be much more considerate while discussing them. An underlying theme in the event was how the occupation of space fortifies control and regulation of civic conversation.
The symposium instigates many questions for Franklin and Marshall students’ political activity. For example, the symposium asks us why we as students congregate at Hartman Green for public demonstrations? In the fall of 2019, when students organized because of the racist Halloween costumes, it was on Hartman Green. Last fall, during the silent protests in response to the racist, anti-semitic, and xenophobic Yik-Yak posts, the demonstration again occurred on Hartman Green. The silent protest last semester was also accompanied by posters being put on the walkways as a means to disrupt the flow of people. However, the center of Hartman Green is a good distance away from Old Main, which hosts the monuments of Benjamin Franklin and John Marshall and the administrative buildings. The latest congregations are also far from the Protest Tree, which is supposed to be a center of student political expression.
There is substantial evidence that these artists believe the conversation should take place on Hartman Green. The speakers at the symposium provided a major lesson for F&M students: that is there should be proper ways to continue strengthening public discourse in the space that we have claimed.
That being said, what does it mean to shift political dissent away from where the college’s name sake’s and administrative buildings are? Or is it a solution to begin our conversation in a space that is not already heavily regulated?
Senior Ahmed Abukwaik is a Contributing Writer. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.