Public Art

The Monument as Living Memory

A Collective Architectural Intervention led by Caleb Duarte   |  

October 9–March 30, 2021

As COVID-19 forced us inside, arts institutions were tasked with the challenge of creating socially distant art experiences for communities to engage with outside of their shuttered galleries. Beyond the institutions, artists flocked to the new streetside canvases of boarded up businesses to paint images of essential workers, reclaim public spaces to call out for equity and liberation in the name of George Floyd and so many others, and to attempt to create some sense of community as bodies continued to be forced to distance.

The boards, meant to remove access and close up, have become spaces to open—open for dialogue, for creativity, and for public voice. This creative action is synonymous with the aesthetics of revolt, a colorful celebration of resistance, endurance, beauty, and community self-determination. Inspired by this movement, artist Caleb Duarte brings together artists and collectives from across the Bay Area to build a reflection of ourselves, of this moment, through an architectural intervention that is as ever-changing as the world we live in.

The Monument as Living Memory illustrates the closure, dismantling, and restructuring of institutions, the toppling of monuments, and the uprising of a palpable collective spirit across our country. Taking form as a larger-than-life board in the public space, this work echoes the simultaneous temporary closure of YBCA’s galleries and opening of a platform for public voice. Within the board lies a distinct cut out in the shape of a monument, asking audiences to question what is behind the shadows, what is haunting us, and how can art and art institutions work towards its dismantlement.

Working closely with Bay Area artists and collectives, this work will be an evolving collaboration over the course of 18 weeks, with new revisions, additions, and cover ups added every two weeks until Duarte’s final layer is created in mid-February.

The iterative nature of the work allows for artists to respond with the same urgency, responsiveness, and passion that we see within the communities marching in the streets, creating murals, and demanding for a better, more just world.

The Monument as Living Memory is one of the many YBCA initiatives reimagining how we can safely bring our community together in-person once again. Experience the work 24/7. Always free. No appointment necessary.

See the first artistic collaboration in honor of Indigenous People’s Day by Caleb with members of Urgent Art.

701 Mission Street Plaza

Urgent Art

Formed in 2016, Urgent Art is a loose group of former immigrant refugee youth seeking asylum from Guatemala, now living in Oakland, California. They arrived to the United States as part of the influx of unaccompanied minors that arrived at the end of 2014. At that time the U.S. had apprehended over 68,000 unaccompanied migrant children at the border, resulting in a media and political storm.

Urgent Art has created public interventions, murals, and performance in and around the Bay Area using artistic tools for individual and collective expression in order to navigate through concerns related to living in an unfamiliar environment.

Initiated through the Oakland Fremont High N.E.S.T program, and in collaboration with artist Caleb Duarte through La Peña Cultural Center, the group has expanded to creating public interventions in train stations, Malcom x Jazz festival, created a mural intervention, Embassy of the Refugee at Jack London Square for the Bay Area Mural festival, and participated in a sculptural performance for Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’s Bay Area Now 8 and for the Suzanne Lacy retrospective, We Are Here co-presented by YBCA and SFMoMA in 2019.

Urgent Arts’ original four members take on the first iteration of Caleb Duarte’s architectural intervention by painting interpretations of Maya textiles and embroideries that decorate Mayan traditional wear. The urgent painting over a temporary plywood wall as an architectural intervention expresses the growing visibility of Central American Indigenous presences in the Bay Area.

Inaugurating for Indigenous People’s Day (formally known as Christopher Columbus Day) Urgent Art demonstrates the continuation of indigenous resistance, celebrating the original inhabitants of the Americas in Ohlone territory, while painting over a cut silhouette of a traditional monument podium.

This lends to the idea of dismantling violent monuments for the imagination and creation of a living and growing memory through the use of the body, the painted image, and community engagement.

Lead image: Installation view of The Monument as Living Memory with YBCA preparatory staff, October 6th, 2020. Photo by Tommy Lau.

This project is supported by the Yerba Buena Conservancy Grant.