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Philadelphia Just Removed One of Its Few Monuments to Women, Let’s Build 50 More

November 13, 2017

Last weekend, a monument that was created by artist Sharon Hayes for the purpose of calling attention to Philadelphia’s lack of monuments to living historical women was removed from Rittenhouse Square. The monument, titled If They Should Ask, had stood for nearly two months and was one of 20 artist-created “prototype monuments” apart of Monument Lab, a citywide public art and history exhibition that’s asking, What is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia? (Full disclosure: As I announced in September, I am on the Monument Lab Curatorial Team.)

Now, the monument was always scheduled to be deinstalled, as are all the prototype monuments created for Monument Lab. And while Sharon’s and a few other artist’s monuments came down a bit early, Monument Lab’s 2017 exhibition doesn’t end until this Sunday, November 19th, which will be the last day to view most of the artist-created monuments.

No matter when it was scheduled to come down, it was the reason Sharon created her monument that should leave the whole city eager and empowered to begin to address centuries of patriarchal monument making.

“Although the city of Philadelphia is home to over 1,500 public sculptures, there are only two that celebrate the life of a real, historic woman – Joan of Arc and Mary Dyer, neither of whom were Philadelphia residents.” Sharon writes in her Artist Statement. “If They Should Ask is a temporary monument located in Rittenhouse Square that addresses the absence of monuments to women in the city of Philadelphia. The object is a collection of cast concrete pedestals sourced from existing monuments in Philadelphia and materialized at half-scale. Encircled with the names of women who contributed to civic and public life in Philadelphia from early European contact to the present day, If They Should Ask proposes that the persistent and aggressive exclusion of women from this form of public recognition perpetuates historical misunderstandings and reproduces inequality in the city’s economic, social, political, and cultural spheres.”

While Sharon’s monument is now gone from the monument landscape of Philadelphia, I hope its absence can inspire the making of monuments to the countless historical women who deserve to be honored and remembered in our city’s public spaces!

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