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Re-envisioning Public Monuments for a New City

Monuments in public spaces are being re-examined: from Confederate statues in the U.S. to the debates about Canadian “hero” John A. Macdonald. Even more than creating reminders of the past, monuments create portraits of the times, reflecting back to us the structures of power that gave form and solidity to contemporary values. As these traditional monuments are confronted, what will replace them on the empty pedestals in our public squares and plazas?

To answer this question, The Bentway has teamed up with our friends at the High Line Network, including the High Line in NYC, The 606 in Chicago, Waller Creek in Austin and Buffalo Bayou in Houston to create New Monuments for New Cities. Together, we engaged 25 artists—5 from each participating city—to imagine new forms of public monuments. These touring artworks are now on view at The Bentway until August 31, before making their final stop at The High Line in New York this Fall.

Quentin VerCetty, one of four participating artists from Toronto, is no stranger to public art. Starting out as a graffiti muralist in Toronto, Quentin has since presented award-winning work in public spaces around the world. His work uses the lens of Afrofuturism, often sharing narratives of Black lives and African representation where the past, present and future are interconnected and layered.

His piece for the exhibition, entitled The Library of Unlearning, monumentalizes a young Ugandan student named Mayimuna, who has struggled to find her place in an unwelcoming and largely white academic world. Quentin has chosen to re-imagine a statue from Columbia University as Mayimuna, displacing her into an Afrotopian society where people of colour feel safe, empowered and appreciated. Quentin’s work celebrates Mayimuna’s potential and represents her as a positive change-maker.

As much of Quentin’s practice is about accessibility and the context of environment, it’s important for him to be able to showcase his work in public and engage the timid, but curious passerby who might not find themselves welcomed in a traditional gallery setting.  Ancient African public art projects like The Sphinx have led Quentin to believe that public art holds the potential to create better people, communities and cities. This is similar potential, he sees, in the like-minded network of artists and curators who have convened for New Monuments for New Cities, and together, aptly question how art can inspire our future cities.

Come take a stroll with us through this timely exhibition: walking tours are on select Tuesday evenings until August 20!