NYC DOT Art Community Commission and The Marcus Garvey Park Alliance partnered to install a timely and pertinent new art installation in Harlem. Kenseth Armstead: Boulevard of African Monarchs arrived on 116th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard on August 13, 2020.
Known for his artistic connections between the transatlantic slave trade and the creative visions brought with them to this country, Armstead’s work is best described in his artist statement referencing his long-term series, Farther Land, “…..recent work explores the African-American experience inside the American Revolution. Farther Land symbolically reflects on 10 years of the artist’s research on the true story of slave turned double-agent spy James Armistead Lafayette. The founders’ high ideals and the penalty for deviation from them are both reshaped as objects that relate this point of view. The series responds to the age of revolution and the founders’ declaration that “all men are created equal” with irony and suggestive material content.”
In Armstead’s new installation, Boulevard of African Monarchs, the patterns are taken from the wall paintings of Tiébélé, Burkina Faso, the royal court of the Kassena People, where every home is hand-painted. The two-dimensional paint marks are transformed into three-dimensional, freestanding, shapes. Boulevard of African Monarchs is meant to remind the viewers of Harlem’s proud legacy of creativity ~ a shared identity before the transatlantic slave trade ~ many of its inhabitants having brought this spirit and creativity with them to these Shores. It is their shared human story.
The 10′ x 10′ x 15′ sculpture transforms traditional Tiebele house paintings by women artists, a tradition that predates the triangular transatlantic slave trade, into an open freestanding sculpture where the public can gather, journey and connect. Boulevard of African Monarchs is the first sculpture in Armstead’s Sankofa_ Series.
The works celebrate Africans and their diaspora, proclaiming Black Lives Matter in three dimensions. Sankofa_honors, in monumental form, “Sankofa” a word in the Twi language that means “go back and get it.”
Best said by the artist, Armstead “tirelessly works to explore difficult terrain, new histories, complex identities and nuanced subjects with art ~ works that seek to create beauty out of the connection to, and honoring of, the invisible and forgotten in American Culture.”
“My parents met and fell in love at Ephesus SDA church in Harlem in 1957,” said Armstead. “Like many Black migrants from the south, Harlem’s vibrant energy and creativity became their inspirational foundation toward achieving the American Dream. Boulevard of African Monarchs pays tribute to Harlem as a continuing symbolic cornerstone to so many Africans in America.”
The Harlem installation comes on the heals of Armstead’s artwork, True North: Every Negro is a Star, which was installed at Willoughby Square, City Point, Brooklyn, through February 6, 2020 by NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, Percent for Art.
Kenseth Armstead: Boulevard of African Monarchs will be on view through August 2021 at the intersection of 116th Street, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd, and St. Nicholas Blvd. in Harlem.
The installation is presented by NYC DOT Art Community Commission and The Marcus Garvey Park Alliance, Connie Lee, President of The Marcus Garvey Park Alliance, Director of Public Art Initiative, and Curator of Living with Art Salon. The Opening Reception for Kenseth Armstead: Boulevard of African Monarchs is TBA.
The artwork was commissioned by NYC DOT in 2019. “I applied for the Community Commissions project to bring this opportunity to Harlem,” said Connie Lee, President of the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance and Director of their Public Art Initiative, “I’m grateful to DOT Art and the artist, Kenseth Armstead. Boulevard of African Monarchs speaks to the cultural significance of the surrounding neighborhood and the creative culture that Harlem is famous for.”
Read more about the artist in his 2015 bio with Socrates Sculpture Garden for EAF15: 2015 ~ Emerging Artist Fellowship Exhibition.
Take a look-back at Kenseth Armstead: Washington 20/20/20 which was unveiled in Union Square Park in 2018 ~ and Master Work: Slaves of New York 1776 at BRIC as part of his ongoing Father Land project.
Follow the artist on Instagram.
Here’s what else is going on in Harlem.