Artist lauren woods, who prefers to have their name in lowercase letters, and curator Kimberli Meyer discussed their project “American Monument,” and the controversy surrounding Meyer’s termination as director of the formerly known University Art Museum with Forms of Reparations: The Museum and Restorative Justice.
“American Monument” is an art installation that examines the police killings of unarmed Black people.
“American Monument was conceived to be this sort of intermedia, nomadic monument,” woods said. “The idea is that it could go to any site in a city and take over the existing architecture to create an active space to look at systemic racism through the phenomena of police brutality specifically.”
The virtual symposium, that was held Monday night, Forms of Reparations: The Museum and Restorative Justice was a virtual speaker series organized by graduate students from the School of Art at Long Beach State to examine the ways institutions, including CSULB, have sustained “white supremacy, imperialism and exploitation,” according to their website.
woods began to work on this project in 2014 after the killings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, which ignited the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I didn’t want to have an art show that didn’t speak to this issue,” woods said. “I didn’t want to let there be one moment to not think about this.”
Meyer, former director of the University Art Museum, which was renamed the Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld Contemporary Art Museum in 2019, became involved with the project in 2016.
During the event, Meyer explained the meaning behind the word monument and said that it is a structure that warns people of the past but can guide people for the future, reflective of woods’ work.
Meyer said that she was excited to bring the project to the museum because of the diverse student body of CSULB. She said that she wanted this project to bring attention to police brutality and the culture of anti-Blackness to the campus.
Days before “American Monument” debuted at Kleefeld Contemporary in 2018, Meyer was unexpectedly fired via an email from the department. In response, woods staged a protest by walking out on the opening night.
The event moderator, Andrea Guerrero, recalled when “American Monument” was first presented at the Kleefeld Contemporary on Sept. 16, 2018, after she arrived about half an hour late trying to find parking for the event.
“I came into this scene of chaos,” Guerrero said. “People were crying, there was a weird silence and I had actually no idea what was going on. I think a lot of people also did not have a clear understanding of what had just happened.”
Guerrero and Meyer alternated reading from a timeline that began in July 2016 when Meyer assumed her position as director. The two stated key dates of Meyer’s work with the museum, including having the staff participate in anti-racism training, her collaboration with woods and her termination.
Meyer and woods decided to keep working together, even attempting to create an alternate space to house the work in, calling it a “parallel museum,” that would further change in a way that traditional museums may be unable to quickly do. In 2019, “American Monument” opened at the University of California Irvine.
woods said that the university could take place in a restorative process to acknowledge the harm done to Meyer, but an open conversation in which CSULB would admit fault could make them vulnerable to lawsuits not from them, but from other parties that have had challenges in the past.
Before the event ended, Meyer and woods discussed what the audience can learn from their experience and how art museums can create better practices.
“Trust artists,” Meyer said. “Trust the amazing artists. The whole definition of what art can be is so much more than what you think it is if you’re an institution.”
The lauren woods & Kimberli Meyer: American Monument & the Power of Collaboration speaker event can be viewed on YouTube. To register for more events, visit the Forms of Reparations: The Museum and Restorative Justice website.
Paris Barraza contributed to this article.