2020 Urban Research Award: Cities and Alternative Spaces of Memory: Monuments and Counter-Monuments in New Orleans

PI: Cynthia Becker, PhD, Associate Professor of African Art, Department of History of Art & Architecture, affiliated with the African Studies Center and the African American Studies Program

photo of Cynthia Becker
Cynthia Becker

Despite public outcry from some quarters, the New Orleans City Council voted to remove four monuments to the Confederacy in 2015. Cynthia Becker’s project, “Cities and Alternative Spaces of Memory: Monuments and Counter-Monuments in New Orleans,” uses the current debate around Confederate monuments as a springboard to consider the role counter-monuments play in urban environments, looking at them as structures and performances created to preserve marginalized histories. This project looks at how people have begun to reconsider their relationships to urban monuments and the political figures they memorialize and asks how we can rewrite the history of our cities to include multiple voices, including those often left out of official archives.

 Lee Circle in New Orleans, after the removal of the bronze statue of General Robert E. Lee from its marble pedestal in 2017. (Photograph by C. Becker).
Lee Circle in New Orleans, after the removal of the bronze statue of General Robert E. Lee from its marble pedestal in 2017. (Photograph by C. Becker).
Local artists painted the cement pillars of an expressway built in 1969 that destroyed dozens of African American-owned businesses in New Orleans. This is now a gathering spot for the African American community during Mardi Gras. (Photograph by C. Becker)
Local artists painted the cement pillars of an expressway built in 1969 that destroyed dozens of African American-owned businesses in New Orleans. This is now a gathering spot for the African American community during Mardi Gras. (Photograph by C. Becker)
A group of Mardi Gras Indians, that includes David Montana in white, march near the overpass during carnival. In the early twentieth century, African Americans could not participate in the city’s all-white Carnival parades; instead, they asserted a view of history that emphasized historical interactions between Native Americans and people of African descent. As counter-monuments, Mardi Gras Indians portrayed an Afro-centric vision of history that directly confronted the myth of white supremacy. (Photograph by C. Becker).
A group of Mardi Gras Indians, that includes David Montana in white, march near the overpass during carnival. In the early twentieth century, African Americans could not participate in the city’s all-white Carnival parades; instead, they asserted a view of history that emphasized historical interactions between Native Americans and people of African descent. As counter-monuments, Mardi Gras Indians portrayed an Afro-centric vision of history that directly confronted the myth of white supremacy. (Photograph by C. Becker).