Yaddo Artist Forums

Reimagining Monuments

Statues are not simply bodies in bronze, and monuments are not mere stone pillars, randomly fixed to the ground. They instruct. They lay claim. They hold up the stories of some, bury the stories of others, and too often broadcast incomplete accounts of our past.

Now, a global reckoning with the power and influence of memorials and commemorative spaces has taken on greater urgency. How might we reinterpret and rebuild public tributes for a more just future? How may we envision a different kind of monument, transform the way our histories are told in public spaces, and ensure that future generations inherit a commemorative landscape that honors the vast, rich complexity of the human story?

We’re honored to have three brilliant artists and thought leaders with us to discuss.

Please join us Friday, May 21st at 6pm ET via Zoom for this timely and essential conversation.


Kemi Ilesanmi is the Executive Director of The Laundromat Project, which advances artists and neighbors as change agents in their own communities. Prior to joining The LP in 2012, she was Director of Grants and Services at Creative Capital Foundation. From 1998-2004, she was a visual arts curator at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. She serves on the boards of the Joan Mitchell Foundation and The Broad Room, as well as advisory boards for WNET All Arts and Smith College Museum of Art. In 2015, she was appointed by the Mayor to the NYC Cultural Affairs Advisory Council.

In addition to her leadership roles, Kemi lectures extensively across the country and contributes to cultural scholarship. She has been honored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Project for Empty Space. She received her MPA from NYU Wagner and BA from Smith College. Kemi is also a graduate of Coro Leadership New York and a member of the Sterling Network. Kemi is proudly of Nigerian and Black American descent. She lives in Brooklyn with her spouse, with whom she travels the world and enjoys art of all kinds.


Kenseth Armstead is conceptual artist. Historic exhibitions which include his work are: Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary Art at the Whitney Museum; It’s Happening! Celebrating 50 Years of Public Art in NYC Parks, Presented by NYC Parks, Art in the Parks; Race in Digital Space at MIT; Veni Vidi Video at the Studio Museum in Harlem; Open House: Working in Brooklyn at the Brooklyn Museum; and Modern Heroics, 75 years of African American Expressionism at the Newark Museum.

Some of the grants won in support of Armstead’s work include: NYFA Artist Fellowship (1996 & 2019); Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant (1999 & 2020); NYSCA Individual Artist Award; and the Creative Capital Foundation Grant.

Armstead’s artwork commissions include: Olana State Historic Site, Heresy • Hearsay, in 2014; Socrates Sculpture Park, Master Work: Astoria Houses in 2015; BRIC House, Master Work: Slaves of New York 1776 in 2018; and Union Square Park, Washington 20/20/20 in 2018. Currently, Armstead’s first Sankofa_ public artwork, Boulevard of African Monarchs, presented by the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance and the NYC DOT ART, Community Commissions is installed in Harlem through 2021.

Armstead is currently a Commissioner on the Public Design Commission of the City of New York, Appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio. The PDC has jurisdiction over permanent structures, landscape architecture, and art proposed on or over City-owned proper.

In March, Armstead was published by Bloomsbury as the author of the final chapter of the book Teachable Monuments.


Ken Lum is known for his conceptual and representational art in a number of media, including painting, sculpture and photography. A longtime professor, he currently is the Chair of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design in Philadelphia. He was formerly Professor of Art at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver where he was also Head of the Graduate Program in Studio Art; Bard College, Annendale on Hudson, New York, and the l’Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris.

A co-founder and founding editor of Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, he is a prolific writer with numerous published articles, catalogue essays and juried papers. Since the mid 1990s, Lum has worked on numerous permanent public art commissions including for the cities of Vienna, the Engadines (Switzerland), Rotterdam, St. Louis, Leiden, Utrecht, Toronto and Vancouver. He has also realized temporary public art commissions in Stockholm, Istanbul, Torun (Poland), Innsbruck and Kansas City.  Related to his public art, he has written several essays on subject formation and public space. Lum’s public art often deals with individual and social identity formation in the context of historical trauma and the complications of official and non-official memory. He is a co-founder of Monument Lab, a public art, history, and sapce collective based in Philadelphia, PA.