INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Art in its many forms serves many purposes.
The “Talking Wall” sculpture on the campus of Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis is a large snapshot of Indiana’s Black history.
Even the location of “Talking Wall” has history. A school named after Mary Cable, a Black educator, once sat at the site along the Indianapolis Cultural Trail just north of West Michigan Street.
The sculpture, unveiled in 2015, contains images of people and other items both familiar and unfamiliar. It’s easy to follow the storyline laid out in the design of “Talking Wall.” It shows stories are passed down not just through what we hear, but also what we see.
“The idea was that it captured some of the African-American history in Indianapolis,” said Bernard Williams, the sculpture’s creator.
Commission by the Arts Council of Indianapolis to do the work, Williams had the direction and built the vision.
“What I did was trying to visualize that history with the collection of words, signs and symbols,” he said.
Indiana’s Black history is often tied to Indiana Avenue with figures including entrepreneur, philanthropist, and political and social activist Madam C.J. Walker and jazz legend Wes Montgomery.
“And really there is no part of town in the city that has not been touched by a Black presence and Black culture,” said Julia Moore with the Arts Council.
Indy’s Black history touches more ground than just Indiana Avenue.
The sculpture has some known faces and symbols, along with others viewers may have never known, such as educator Mary Cable and the Indiana all-Black Regiment from the Civil War.
Moore said of artist Williams, “He was able to take all of those ideas that the community came up with and to put them together in a way that honored both the history that people wanted to see and also the idea of the Black presence in Indianapolis.”
But, the stories combined shows a continuum of history rooted in culture.
Williams said, “The Black presence is bigger than it’s ever been.”
The sculpture not only tells a story, but shows other Black creatives — ones who were once left out of the lucrative art scene — that big-scale projects are growing and up for the taking.
“We’re seeing prices for African-American art that we’ve never seen before. So, it’s certainly a moment of progress and arrival, you might say, that has been long overdue,” Williams said.