Olalekan Jeyifous and Amanda Williams’s design for the Shirley Chisholm Monument will be built following approval from the New York City Public Design Commission last week. The monument will be located at the Parkside and Ocean Avenues entrance to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, and will be the first monument from former New York City first lady Chirlane McCray’s She Built NYC initiative, which intended to support monuments reflecting on women’s history in New York.
Chisholm spent a significant part of her childhood in Bedford–Stuyvesant save a few years with her grandmother in Barbados, and attended Brooklyn College and the Teachers College at Columbia University. She worked as an educator before entering politics. Initially working at the state level, Chisholm won her first Congressional race in 1968, making her the first Black woman to serve in Congress. Chisholm became the first Black woman to seek a presidential nomination four years later, losing to George McGovern.
When the project was announced in 2019, as AN reported, it was originally supposed to be completed in 2020, but following pandemic delays and slow progress from the Adams administration, has not moved forward until now. Renovation work on the Soldiers and Sailors’ Memorial, on Grand Army Plaza at the opposite end of the park, is also ongoing.
As expressed in their proposal, Jeyifous and Williams sought to design “a monument to Shirley Chisholm that celebrates her legacy as a civil servant who “left the door open” to make space for others to follow in her path toward equity and a place in our country’s political landscape.” Jeyifous and Williams’s design is based around an abstracted portrait image of Chisholm in front of the Capitol Building, with the exterior of the Capitol Rotunda behind her head, and a second portrait of Chisholm. Taking the silhouettes of Chisholm and the Rotunda, the designers layered vegetation from local and Barbadian plants over the interlaced silhouettes, leaving part of the ground level more open (following the theme of leaving the door open).
The primary sections of the structure, which will be built from steel, will be painted emerald green with secondary profiles finished in patinated bronze. Original designs included a sunken set of steps under the memorial to reflect seats on the House of Representatives floor, but this was changed for a more ADA-compliant design. Bronze sidewalk plaques will now represent the semicircle of house seats, with the perimeter of the circle being filled by an arcing Chisholm quote.
The 32-foot-tall monument, scaled down from the originally-proposed 40 feet, will orient Chisholm’s portrait, partially bisected by the Capitol Rotunda, to face the entrance. The floral motifs feature prominently in renderings, incorporating wild geranium, bearded fig, siberian elm, and american chestnut, among other flora. At the 32-foot height, the monument will be at-level with surrounding trees, but serve as a distinct centerpiece to the reimagined entrance.
Jeyifous and Williams said that “the composite profile symbolizes how she disrupted the perception of who has the right to occupy such institutions and to be an embodiment for democracy.”