As confederate monuments, statues, and symbols continue to be protested and removed–with many still to go–there is a strong desire to not have these removals be the end of the conversation and resistance to white supremacy and the symbols that uphold and iconize oppression and hatred. On Democracy Now, Ta-Nehisi Coates–national correspondent at The Atlantic and author of Between the World and Me— articulates this by saying, “I will say there’s some danger if it simply stops at taking down statues…I support the removal of the statues, but I just want to make sure that we’re not skipping over a conversation by taking down symbols and saying ‘that’s nice; that’s over.'”
To help facilitate a continued conversation and support progressive action moving forward, “Projecting History” will be taking place in New Orleans on Saturday, August 19 at 7:30 PM. Understanding the importance and impact between symbols and systems, “Projecting History” will be literally projecting the stories of people, place, events and movements that have shaped our city. It is an event that will tell about our history–the positive and the negative–in hopes to continue conversation and actions toward what we want the identity of New Orleans to be. Talking with Bryan C. Lee Jr., one of the five core team members (along with Sue Mobley, Shoshana Gordon, Chris Daemmrich, and John Ludlam) of “Projecting History,” as well as one of the founders of “Paper Monuments” and founder of Colloquate Design, resulted in conversation about city identity, design as protest, and where we can go from here.
Q: The name “Projected History” has so many different implications. Tell us about about how the name came to be and how it represents the event and larger projects for New Orleans.
Bryan: There was actually not a lot of brainstorming for the name. It was one of those times where you are having a conversation and everyone coalesces around a certain phrase or a certain word, and it sticks. When we had our meetings we would literally say, ‘So, we’re projecting history onto this, that or the other.’ The phrase ‘projecting history’ became synonymous with the project because we are doing exactly that: on Saturday [August 19] we will be projecting the stories of people, places, events and movements.
More broadly, and thinking about the implications of the phrase, we saw the name as a way to talk about what we want in the future, as in what are we projecting toward, as well as how we acknowledge the existing condition of the existing space that we are currently in.
Q: At “Projected History,” people will also be able to get a Paper Monuments poster. Tell us more about the Paper Monuments project.
Bryan: Paper Monuments is an organizing and engagement effort for New Orleans that is trying to bring alternative ideas for us to reimagine what monuments look like and what monumental spaces look like. We want to help facilitate the re-imagination of the change that can happen in these spaces. We want to bring attention to stories, and we also want to codify those stories in space.
What we are asking people to do is come out and grab a poster, which is meant to attach a visual to a more substantive narrative. Those paper monuments can strike you, hold you, and give you more information so that you can dig deeper. Our plan is to roll out between five and ten posters in the next month, and the artists we are working with will be able to take the stories they appreciate and demonstrate those in a way they see fit. The public will see these posters in a ubiquitous way because they will be all over the city in as many fashions as possible.
Equal to that, we are asking people for their proposals around paper monuments. We say “paper monuments” for two reasons. One is because there’s the temporal aspect of the visual posters that people get. The other part is that paper is synonymous with identity [i.e. get your papers to show who you are, where you belong, etc.]; it’s an identity consideration, and we are asking people to define what our city’s identity wants to be. Draw that identity. Write a story. What do you see our city as, moving into the future?
We’ll collect those voices and use those as the baseline in deciding what monuments we want to see in this city.
Q: Talk about the lights, the use of lights, and creative ways to use design as protest.
Bryan: In the design continuum, we talk about the ephemeral and immediate actions one can take to react or bring attention to injustice. The way in which we use light and the way we will be using projection at the event on Saturday is about causing an immediate rupture in people’s common environment.
We see our built environment in a very peripheral manner until something is disjointed from that common space or view that we have. The light projection provides that spark that is different than your basic interaction with the place. We are hoping to use light projection as a beacon to draw people in and to have a larger, visual, and more robust conversation about space that doesn’t happen unless you disjoint the environment.
These conversations are around the stories that collectively we want to be lifted in this city and how we go about ensuring that they are codified and represented in a public space. Those are the conversations that talk about the symbols that represent the systems we want moving forward. If we expect to have better schools, then we will want to talk about the people who fought for strong and equal education in this city. If we want better housing then let’s talk about the people who have submitted policies, done the ground work, and canvased for better housing in New Orleans. That’s the way we start to represent and speak to our better angels of this city.
We want to remember those stories in order to help remind us not to stray from who we want to be.
Q: What role do you think history played in our lives as well as what role can it play in our lives?
Bryan: We exist on a continuum and everything that happens before and after us has a direct referential moment in time. When we reflect on history and understand it well enough to notice when things are cyclical or patterns can be disrupted or when we can skip obstacles, we are in the better. That’s the way history always adapts or allows us to adapt in the spaces and places we exist. We don’t have high ceilings in New Orleans for no reason. Those ceilings tell us about the past of no air conditioning, of the fact that hot air rises, and that people feel better when they get heat off of them.
Then we get to be conscious about the way that we continue on the path history is laying for us. For the younger generations that come behind us, they are looking at us to determine and decide how they want to operate in this world. We are not doing well at this point in time; we have got to find a way to be better. We have to find a better way to reflect on who we are to ensure that they have a better future as well.
History is part of our past as much as it is part of our present.
Q: What can people expect to happen after the “Projecting History” event?
Bryan: This is the first of many events that we will be having. We will be having monthly events–some more general events to talk about the larger concepts of Paper Monuments and talk about how people can participate and add their voice to this ‘Monuments for All’ movement.
There will also be specific events that focus on discussing and determining what should replace the spaces that currently hold the memory of confederacy. Jeff Davis, Lee Circle, Beauregard…all of these spaces hold the memory of the confederacy. We are actively seeking to replace that part of our collective memory with the history and future that uplift us.
We’re urging people to be a part of this because it’s not about the symbol only. It’s about the systems that the symbols represent, and how we can build into our culture, our public spaces, and our history the stories that we want to be long-term.
“Projecting History” will be taking place on Saturday, August 19 in Free Circle (formerly known as Lee Circle) at 7:30 PM. To learn more about the event, you can check out their event page.