Last month, Alexandria, Virginia, unveiled the latest public art installation by Nina Cooke John of Studio Cooke John. Titled Two Boxes of Oranges and Admonia Jackson, the installation is inspired by the uncovering of 18th-century cargo and slave ships in 2015 to 2018, and comes just weeks after her installment in Newark, New Jersey, in honor of Harriet Tubman titled Shadow of a Face. The new piece continues the ideas of Black liberation that Cooke John imbued in her Newark installation.
“My Alexandria installation references histories that have been lost or covered up and the process of revealing those histories through peeling or excavation,” the artist shared in a press release.
Nina Cooke John is the founding principal of Studio Cooke John, a multidisciplinary studio that seeks to transform relationships between people and the built environment through placemaking. Cooke John was born in Jamaica and having witnessed the creativity of the people in her homeland, she brings their same spirit of transformation and innovation into all of her designs.
Two Boxes of Oranges and Admonia Jackson takes its form from the sunken ships that inspired it, resembling an abstracted hull through several vertical and bent steel members. Visitors are invited to stand within the ship’s outline and move from the outer blue to the contrasting orange lines, where writing can be seen embedded along the members and ground. Within these confines the visitors are prompted to contemplate the time in Alexandria’s history when ships not only carried cargo of tobacco, molasses, rum, and limes, but also carried enslaved people as part of the transatlantic and domestic slave trades.
The words and phrases printed on the painted ground—a continuation of the steel limbs—were taken from the ships’ manifests and list cargo items such as “herring,” “coconuts,” and “gin,” while also including names and descriptions such as “Jane Tailor, female, 5’-2.” Also listed out are the piece’s namesakes “two boxes of oranges” and “Admonia Jackson.”
The installment is the fifth in Alexandria’s “Site See: New Views in Old Town” annual public art series at Waterfront Park, which started back in 2019. Through innovative, exciting, and high-quality contemporary art at the key riverfront location, the series seeks to offer a unique visitor experience, unlike others in the region.
Cooke John’s installment will be on display from late March to November.