Memory, Monuments, and Urban Space: Alliyah Allen ’18 on Monument Lab

Patrick Montero/Haverford College

Patrick Montero/Haverford College

This semester, Alliyah Allen ’18 is working with Writing Fellow Paul Farber on Monument Lab: Creative Speculations for Philadelphia, a massive public art and urban research project he co-curated that is taking over Philadelphia’s City Hall starting May 15th.  Through a series of art installations, public events, and community-sourced maps, the project asks a central guiding question: What is the appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia?

Supported by the Hurford Center’s Tuttle Fund for the Development of Visual Culture across the Curriculum, Alliyah is one of a number of Haverford students, staff, and faculty working on the project.  Below, she shares her thoughts on Monument Lab, its timeliness within current national discourse on race, class, and the usages of public space, and how her work fits into her larger academic projects at Haverford.

HCAH: How did you become interested in monuments and involved in the project? What is your role in Monument Lab?

ALLIYAH ALLEN ’18: Last semester I took Professor Paul Farber’s Memory, Monuments, and Urban Space class for my Haverford Writing Seminar, and since then my perspective on the relationship between public art, monuments, and history has shifted drastically. I am from Newark, New Jersey and have been immersed in urban culture for the majority of my life. Prior to my work in this course and participation in the lab, I didn’t have much of an appreciation for public art or monuments. The deterioration and lack of resources had given me the impression that success was not welcomed in my community and that history could not be made there.

However, taking this course and my participation in the Monument Lab has opened my eyes to see differently. I now understand the power in how we occupy and choose to appreciate urban space through art. One monument can tell a story of a nation, war, or major event. However, that same monument can also silence another majority of people that have been affected by the same event. I’m extremely grateful to participate in this project because the Monument Lab is helping to break this silence in Philadelphia, a city rich with culture, history, and people.

As of now I am working on the technological aspects of the lab. The goal is to have people draw and take a picture of their proposed monument. Then, they should be able to send that photo to a database, developed by Haverford’s Coordinator for Digital Scholarship and Services Laurie Allen, where all can see the image on a map of Philadelphia. As we collect more data, we will we able to find more ways to represent that data and visualize it. I will also be joining discussions and engaging with people about the importance of monuments and what they think their monument should be.

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How do you see your work on Monument Lab coming from, feeding into, or otherwise connecting with your work here at Haverford?

I plan to major in Growth and Structure of Cities with a minor in Computer Science. Therefore the Monument Lab ties in perfectly with my academic interests. With one drive down Lancaster Avenue you can enter an entirely different world and have an opportunity to think and see differently. Therefore, with my experience working in the Monument Lab, I hope to find ways to incorporate Haverford within these communities. We have the resources and many creative minds that can come together and impact Philadelphia and beyond. However, that starts with breaking our HaverBubble and entering communities that many are not comfortable in, and I believe that the Monument Lab and American Rubble project were two amazing starts to doing such.

You were involved in American Rubble with Mellon Creative Resident Stephanie Syjuco, right? What connections do you see between that project and Monument Lab?

I was involved in the American Rubble project. My partners and I researched two sites on Lancaster Avenue, and the results blew me away. Prior to research and critical thought about the sites of rubble, I thought that there wouldn’t be much to say or write about them. However, by going there and researching what the sites were and going to be, I was able to appreciate them, and furthermore urban space.

I learned that that protests and marches had occurred on the very street that I was walking on. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at one of our locations while he was on his Freedom Now Tour to address the issues of urban African-American communities. I loved this project because with one picture and hours of editing a postcard of 400 words, I was able to become a part of the history of this community and my thoughts and feelings about the site will contribute to the future of it.

I hope this project reaches all urban communities, even my own, because it forces you to pay attention to the small details that define a city’s present state, while understanding its history and hoping for its future. With the Monument Lab, I am confident that it will produce the same results.

One of Twelve Benches for Terry Adkins’ Prototype Monument, 2015. Courtesy of RAIR (Recycled Artist in Residency), Philadelphia.

How can other Haverford students get involved with Monument Lab?

The best way to get involved is to come down and check it out! We’re open from 12-7pm Monday to Sunday! Also, feel free to visit the website and see the full schedule of talks and other events here.

Do you have an idea for a monument you’d like to see? In Philly? At Haverford? Elsewhere?

I would love to see a monument honoring the #BlackLivesMatter Movement. The protests, riots, and demonstrations against police brutality towards black/brown bodies have made American cities their home. Philadelphia is one of America’s leading cities when it comes to calling attention to social issues, particularly race. Police brutality towards Black Philadelphians is not a new issue and I think that having a monument to remember it is worthwhile in Philadelphia.