Projection-based protest artists receive grant, expand Richmond protest art movement

After the removal of the Robert E. Lee Memorial statue, the location now remains barren surrounded by a chain link fence. Photo by Kaitlyn Fulmore

Mackenzie Meleski, Contributing Writer

Reclaiming The Monument, a projection-based protest art project by Richmond-based artists Dustin Klein and Alex Criqui, was given a $670,000 grant by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Monuments Project.

“Our hope is that we can use the generosity of the Mellon Foundation to create works of art that get out the messages of these activists and highlight some of the hidden histories and their legacies of injustice that they advocate for,” Criqui said.

The duo is best known for projecting the face of George Floyd, following his murder by former police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, onto the former statue of Robert E. Lee on Richmond’s Monument Avenue in 2020.

Since then, the statue and area surrounding it became the most famous pieces of protest art in the United States, taking the number one slot in The New York Times’ “25 Most Influential Pieces of Protest Art Since World War II.” 

At night, protesters gathered around the statue and George Floyd’s face was projected onto the statue as tribute. 

“We wanted to push back against this symbol of white supremacy by combating art that spoke to oppression with art that spoke to justice,” Klein said.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is a nonprofit organization located in New York. The foundation provides grants to arts and humanities organizations throughout the United States with the intent to “enrich communities,” according to the website.

“The project will highlight neglected, but significant historical, racial and social justice issues,” the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation states on their website.

The Monuments Project is a “five-year $250 million commitment to reimagine and rebuild commemorative spaces and transform the way history is told in the United States,” according to their website. 

The “Tell the Truth About American History” projection onto the Robert E. Lee monument in June of 2021. Photo courtesy of The Monument Project

Following the removal of all of the Confederate monuments in Richmond, the project seeks to create new ways to memorialize history through creating new monuments, furthering education and relocating existing monuments. Reclaiming The Monument will use the grant received from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to create five new projection-based art installations in Richmond in January 2022, according to Criqui and Klein.

Two of the art installations will be created at Belle Isle and the African Burial Ground, located in Shockoe Bottom. They will be displayed later in 2022, according to Klein.

Klein and Criqui will be collaborating with multiple organizations throughout Richmond, such as Sacred Ground Reclamation Project, History is Illuminating and the Richmond Indigenous Society. Reclaiming The Monument is currently holding an open call for artists who would like to be a part of their organization and are encouraging VCUarts students to participate, according to Klein. 

“We will also be helping new and emerging artists create their own works of public art through small scale art grants,” Criqui said.

The Valentine, a museum located at 1015 E. Clay St., is working in collaboration with Reclaiming The Monument on this project. They will be contributing historical files and photography to the project, according to Klein and Criqui. The museum has been teaching and interpreting Richmond history for over a century, according to the Valentine’s website.

The museum’s staff will be interviewing people who visit the new art installations as well as documenting the installations through photography, according to Director Bill Martin.

The interviews and data collected will help The Valentine with its current and future programming, according to Martin.

“We want to learn what people’s attitudes are towards Richmond history,” Martin said, “There might be a particular period of history people are interested in that we don’t cover.”

The museum also collected photos and interviews during the June 2020 protests in Richmond, including Criqui and Klein’s initial projections onto the Robert E. Lee statue. They currently hold the information collected in their extensive records. Martin said that the events were a prominent moment in Richmond history.

It’s been an important opportunity for the community to gather around not just the project, but the cause.” Martin said.

Klein and Criqui also stated that their goal is to highlight hidden histories and create a more inclusive community.

“Art fortunately is a way we can have hard conversations and have people meet these histories in a way that can speak to the human spirit more directly,” Criqui said.

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