Fred Wilson: Mind Forged Manacles/Manacle Forged Minds in Columbus Park, Brooklyn




Digital rendering of Mind Forged Manacles/Manacle Forged Minds, an upcoming public installation by artist Fred Wilson. The sculptural mockup is situated in Brooklyn’s Columbus Park.

On June 28th, More Art unveiled Mind Forged Manacles/Manacle Forged Minds, Fred Wilson’s first ever large-scale public sculpture, opening at the plaza in Columbus Park, Brooklyn on Tuesday June 28, 2022 and closing a year later, in June 2023. The installation features a 10-foot-tall sculpture, composed of layers of decorative ironwork, fencing and statues of African figures. This project is funded in part through the Downtown Brooklyn + Dumbo Art Fund, under New York State’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI), and is exhibited through NYC Parks’ Art in the Parks program.

The use of ornamental gates and fences serves as a metaphor for security and gated communities, insecurity, the incarceration of Black men, the detainment of illegal immigrants, policing, and William Blake’s concept of “Mind Forg’d Manacles” — self-created barriers to personal and societal growth and freedom, built by fear, division and perceptions of difference. These gates, whether they are to keep others out or keep someone in, act as reflections on the separation of people, both physically and psychologically. 

Portrait of Fred Wilson. Copyright Fred Wilso, courtesy of More Art

Mind Forged Manacles/Manacle Forged Minds, while not strictly site-specific, creates, connects and amplifies a conversation about the sculpture and the monuments and buildings around it that currently reside in Columbus Park. The viewer is encouraged to be “site conscious” when looking at the work and its location, as it is positioned between a sculpture of Henry Ward Beecher — a 19th century Congregationalist clergyman known for his support of the abolition of slavery — and the statue of Columbus, as well as the Kings County Supreme Court building — exploring issues of justice, freedom, slavery and mass incarceration. 

Viewers passing through Columbus Park while encountering the elaborate structure, will perhaps consider questions of perspective: Who is looking in? Who is looking out? Who is free? Who is trapped? Who has the power to decide who has the freedom to be inside and outside? The sculpture will be activated through public programs and is intended to ignite productive dialogue about each individual’s experiences and feelings evoked by the piece. 

Image credit: Courtesy of NYC Parks

Wilson has a longstanding interest in metalworks, blacksmithing and ironworks, particularly in relation to the time he spent in the Caribbean and Africa observing the use of gates as protection. The decorative elements in the different types of gates act in dissonance with the function of gates—creating barriers between people. Wilson is known for his politically charged work of reframing objects and cultural symbols, encouraging viewers to reconsider social and historical narratives and raising critical questions about the politics of erasure and exclusion.

More Art has worked with Wilson over the course of several years to develop this project, involving the community and choosing an intentional location for the work. More Art partnered with the Center for Court Innovation, a non-profit working to create a humane justice system, to involve youth (ages 18-24) in creative writing workshops where they were encouraged to think about the issues raised by Wilson’s project. These individuals will be invited to the physical sculpture for additional workshops and programming that will activate the work. Additional public programs will be scheduled throughout the year at the sculpture site and will include, performance, dance, music and spoken word poetry. 

Fred Wilson: Mind Forged Manacles/Manacle Forged Minds will be on view from June 28, 2022 through June 27, 2023 at Columbus Park, Brooklyn.

In related programming, in correlation with artist Fred Wilson’s large-scale public artwork in downtown Brooklyn, Mind Forged Manacles/Manacle Forged Minds, More Art is presenting this interdisciplinary discussion and performance series bringing together a diverse group of artists, writers, performers, and thinkers to explore the rich poetic background and themes of Wilson’s work.

All conversations will take place at the Center for Brooklyn History (128 Pierrepont Street Brooklyn, NY 11201). Please see details below.

May 9 — Act 1: History, Monuments, and Reframing the Narrative (RSVP HERE)

Featuring a conversation between Nona Faustine, Kendal Henry, and Mabel O. Wilson, moderated by Michelle Coffey, with a response from Fred Wilson, the program unpacks issues around race, archives, statue toppling, and the power of monuments in public space.


May 15 — Act 2: Gates, Barriers, and Confinement (RSVP HERE)

One-on-one conversation between Fred Wilson and author Pamela Newkirk, exploring ideas of confinement, how barriers are intangible and physical, and how they keep people out as well as in. This program concludes with a reading by poet Randall Horton. 


May 22 — Act 3: Our National Healing and the Role of Art (RSVP HERE)

Featuring a conversation between Fred Wilson, artist Dread Scott, writer Akiba Solomon, and activist and scholar Salamishah Tillet, the event brings practitioners of different art forms and academic disciplines together to explore how we’re made to feel about our history in America and what role the arts can play in our collective healing.