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29 September 2013


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OK, I'll put on my aluminum foil hat and become an art critic. This sculpture appears to be an oversized piece of trash. If you went to your local library and asked to see the graphic novels in the "YA" (stands for "young adult"=teen) section and scanned through a stack of such stuff, you would find so much material that looks like this that you would see the sculpture as very derivative of a style of "cartoon" that is now popular.

It is very busy with detail, so that its attempt to portray human suffering appears as a kind of grandiose decoration on some unidentified but menacing project that lies beyond the scene itself. Because the suffering is decorative, it does not lend much dignity to the subjects it portrays. I doubt the freedmen and contrabands would be much complimented. I almost wondered, when I first looked at it, if the task of designing it had been subbed out to someone in China or somewhere else in Asia. There are certainly artists--the German Kathe Kollwitz would be a good example--who portray suffering well, but along with grief, the dignity and strength that suffering can call forth seems more central with Kollwitz, than with this artist. I detest what I see here.

Babak Makkinejad

I think it is a fine statue but may be not for a cemetery; why is there no religious symbolism in it?

The Twisted Genius

This reminds me of something I might see in the Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, New York, a very 19th century place where people would often visit to enjoy the peace and serenity. I was just there last week contemplating the many monuments. I'm not familiar with the area immediately around the Freedman's and Contraband's Cemetery area. I hope the site can accommodate the scale of this bronze. Come to think of it, it also reminds me of the bronze fountain in the Nuremburg old town depicting the stages of marriage. It too is a "busy" bronze that tells a story. Some love it. Some hate it. I'm sure it will be the same in Alexandria.


Disturbing. I like it.

Paul Escobar

Mr. Lang,

When I saw it, my mind immediately recalled Tupac Shakur's poem 'The Rose That Grew Through Concrete':

The sculpture appeared to be a visual representation of the metaphor apparent in that poem.

Upon further investigation, I learn that the sculpture is titled 'The Path of Thorns and Roses'. And then there is this interesting bit-of-history recounted by the Alexandria government:
"Alexandria Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery served as the burial place for about 1,800 African Americans who fled to Alexandria to escape from bondage during the Civil War...The cemetery fell into disrepair...In 1955, a gas station was built on the property, followed by an office building."

I think it is a fine piece, because even if you are unaware of such context...your eyes will figure it out when you follow the growth depicted.

Paul Escobar

Hank Foresman

Pat, it could be worse, something totally unrecognizable, at least you have idea that it deals with slavery and human condition.


I agree with you there. It's far better than the usual clever public abstract piece that requires a text to explain its "meaning".



It is too big for the site and the project cost was between 1.5 and 2 million in appropriated funds. pl

Paul Escobar

Mr. Lang,

I am not sure how much bronze costs these days, but the price is too much.

Given the nature & purpose of the piece, the artist should have accepted only minimum hourly wages & the costs of material.


I like the name, but the rest is a flowstone monstrosity to the eyes


It looks like a copy of something done before, and not that great a copy. (Perhaps the photo doesn't do it justice.) But 22ft tall? I looked at the photos at the link; To me it perpetuates the victimhood of some and implies the guilt of others. Seems like those who put this in place still have an axe to grind. (Then I read the artists background and saw his celebrity/politician photos, which made my opinion ever worse.) I will give the artist credit, he knows his marketing. $1.5 million? They should have gotten an Italian marble. At least the artist wouldn't be politically biased.

John Minnerath

I'm glad there were others who commented.
I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings.
I don't like any art that requires a down the nose over the glasses explanation of what I'm supposed to be seeing.
And are usually paid for by huge amounts from public funds, which is supplied by all the unwashed.



The 1.5 to 2 million is the amount of money appropriated for the whole project. There was a gas station on this site and I think the clean up and archaeology must have been expensive. I do not know how much the artist was paid. I think it is ugly but that is a subjective matter. There was another design for this memorial that was by a local person. It was quite nice but the Art Commission here sought out this artist out of state. IMO there is a certain amount of "in your face" attitude behind this statue. pl


Well, it would certainly work as a piece of statement art, and at a price of $2m, could be said to be more functional, and durable, and a wiser investment of less than 1 percent of an F-35 that doesn't appear to have demonstrated the repeated ability to actually fly. As a socially-funded and -organized project, it would probably acquit itself quite admirably, well after the last F-35 goes out of service, which may happen long before the bronze castings have cooled. Let it never be said for posterity's sake that in a society that finds endless ways to waste money, that we knew the price of everything and the value of nothing.

The structure of the design itself would be quite an accomplishment. Casting bronze is difficult and a casting of that size and delicacy--especially the arch--would have to be well-planned.

My criteria for great art is that it gets you to *think*. Interpretation always depends on the observer and their condition. Although the art world as currently constituted would probably not judge this as being sufficiently avant-garde, I'd submit that this qualifies. It depicts a metamorphosis from a degradation of the human body and spirit through the crucible of the American institution of slavery to a renaissance and sanctification of the spirit, in the form of an erect man standing not only in a crown of thorns, but a nimbus. In his outstretched hand is a challenge: Will you conduct yourself as a human being to cultivate truth and beauty? Or will you backslide into the bad old days? Although not Catholic, I see parallels in the stations of the cross.

I think the only controversial thing about it is that it hits us, Americans, where it hurts: the contradiction of our ideals, what we say we stand for, and the many ways we have deceived ourselves in the manifestation of those ideals. And there is no deception as thorough and blinding as the justification we talk ourselves into and all agree upon, because it would be too hard to square "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal . . . " with the shabby insistence that a negro slave is only 3/5 of a person, and yet even less, in his or her own practical terms when walking around among their fellow Americans. Another controversy may be that some people just never want to see a negro elevated in any way, whether they will ever admit to it or not. The rose he offers is also redemption, but the caveat is the acknowledgment of our transgressions. To give up the revisionist "history not hate" cliche, the idea that its just and noble individuals were engaged in some endeavor that was anything other than the service of evil: The cruelest and most vile economic exploitation and subjugation of generations of people.

But as it is written: "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall."



"the shabby insistence that a negro slave is only 3/5 of a person," Yes, the Northern states should not have insisted on counting slaves as 3/5ths of a human. pl


"...it hits us, Americans, where it hurts..." As I said, some people have an axe to grind.

Kyle Pearson

I like it.

I think the symbolism is powerful, disturbing, determined, and hopeful.

The style used in the execution doesn't particularly move me one way or another, but the images and form do.

It recalls the raw power of a sunrise, a thornbush, and a blossoming rose all at once.

At various angles, the staircase of slaves and ex-slaves can be viewed either as a group, or as a single individual carrying another on its shoulders.

It seems to me a powerful symbol of unity and hope, when situated in a freedmen's graveyard that was once covered over by a parking lot.

William R. Cumming



The quote from one of the New England delegates, I think, was that, and I paraphrase, if the South could count each slave as a full person, Massachusetts ought to be able to count each horse as a full person too. That it was the North that wanted to not count slaves at all for apportionment purposes is conveniently forgotten, given present day mentality.

History should not be about moralizing on past events based on present day biases, but understanding why decisions that were made wound up being made, given the circumstances of the time in question.



The site has become a city memorial park. pl

N. A. Pierce

Hideous, expensive waste of money. Ill spent contributions.



In the style of Bernini House
of Borghese. Italian marble 17th
Century Rome?


Look at the base and compare to this one:


scott s.

The "Virginia Plan" offered by Edmund Randolf at the Philadelphia Convention proposed in Article 2 that representation should be based on either 1) "Quotas of contribution" or 2) "the number of free inhabitants".

"Quotas of contribution" was a reference to the means of finance considered during adoption of Article VIII or the Articles of Confederation. During the debates on that article the general principles of taxation based on "wealth" and/or "population" were considered, with population being seen as a proxy for wealth. During debates, the viability of population as a proxy was debated, in terms of the economic utility of slave labor. It was finally resolved that "3/5ths" rule would be the most equitable. In the end, though, the population rule was not accepted. The resulting wealth rule proved unworkable, hence a desire to revisit it when considering taxation during the Philadelphia Convention (generally referred to as the resolution of April 18, 1783). The new wrinkle in the debates in Philly was tieing representation to taxation via the population rule. This caused a re-ordering of priorities, with southern States now wanting representation for slaves whereas in the previous taxation debate they argued for not wanting to count slaves. The 3/5ths rule was sitting on the shelf, ready to to be re-introduced as a compromise.


Firstly, all credit to the City for rediscovering a section of its past and redeveloping the cemetery as public space.

My dear departed partner would have said that it is not you and me who will decide if this statue is "appropriate", let alone "good value" or even "art" it is the unborn generations to come who must make that decision. Our job is to pay for it and hope we have chosen the Artist wisely.

I have had similar qualms about the production (and relocation) of public art, and I am usually wrong.

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