Updated: Wednesday, 20 Oct 2010, 6:00 PM EDT
Published : Tuesday, 19 Oct 2010, 11:11 PM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - Passions were high at a meeting Tuesday night at the Madame Walker Theater. The meeting was about art, but not just any art. Leaders building the Indianapolis cultural trail have commissioned an artist who proposes putting a replica of the slave seen currently on the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on the southwest corner of the city-county building. It would be at the corner of Washington and Delaware streets across from the Marion County Jail.
"We are concerned about placing an image of an African-American male as a slave in close proximity to the Marion County Jail," Leroy Robinson told the crowd of 300 gathered for a discussion of the issue.
Robinson is a Pike High School history teacher and is leading the group that opposes the statue. He says a statue of a slave in that location speaks to a painful reality that black men continue to be enslaved by crime, racism and poverty which leads to disproportionately high numbers behind bars.
During the discussion it quickly became clear that the meeting wasn't just about art. It was about race. It was about history. It was about how that history should be remembered and commemorated.
World renowned artist Fred Wilson wants to take the image of a kneeling slave on the Soldiers and Sailors Monument and position him leaning forward holding a flag woven in the bright red, oranges, and yellows common in African prints. Wilson says the flag is symbolic of the diaspora and the arduous journey of the African Americans from slavery to today.
It's the kind of work Wilson has done around the globe. He takes existing, historic work and puts it in a different light - humanizing racial and ethnic groups that history has objectified.
But the opposition argues a slave erected on the southeast corner of the city-county building is offensive.
"Why not Madame CJ Walker, why not a major Taylor, why not the 28th infantry, why not the Buffalo soldiers, positive images, uplifting images that we can see every day on Washington street," asked Robinson.
Others disagree. They support the artist's work, and surprisingly support the passionate discussion it generates.
"The artwork is doing exactly what it should - creating dialog which the community needs," said IUPUI student Devon Ginn.
And artist, Fred Wilson agreed. After the two hour, sometimes explosive discussion, he left the meeting praising even those who opposed his piece.
"Having dialog, having the discussion happen, having people tell me what they thought was really a good thing," said Wilson.
In the end, cultural trail leaders decided to put the project on hold. They've paid $51,000 of the $325,000 promised for the piece. Before moving forward, they're planning more meetings with the community. If you'd like to participate in further discussions, call the Central Indiana Community Foundation at (317) 634-2423.