From late March to November 2020, temporary public art installation Wrought, Knit, Labors, Legacies by Olalekan Jeyifous is on display in Alexandria’s Waterfront Park as the second in the City of Alexandria's Site See: New Views in Old Town annual public art series.
Jeyifous’ concept frames Alexandria’s African American history through the lens of the city’s industrial and merchant history from the 17th to 20th centuries. Once a prosperous port city that was home to one of the largest domestic slave trading firms in the country, Alexandria was a major center for shipping and manufacturing with an economy inextricably tied to the work of enslaved and free African Americans.
Wrought, Knit, Labors, Legacies seeks to stitch Alexandria’s story together, featuring symbols that represent Alexandria’s merchant and manufacturing history, including factories, tobacco warehouses and railways. The ground mural incorporates African American quilting and textile traditions, which are historically tied to storytelling and oral tradition. When viewed as a whole, the pattern becomes an abstract grid or map, with the manufacturing icons appearing throughout. From this colorful and rich surface, four large figures face the water. These ornate metal profiles are wrapped in sculptural seating platforms that are illuminated in low light.
About the Artist
Jeyifous was commissioned to create an original site-specific work inspired by Alexandria. He was selected by a task force and approved by the Alexandria Commission for the Arts. Based in Brooklyn, Jeyifous, along with Amanda Williams, are co-creating a monument for Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm in Brooklyn, to be unveiled in 2021. His work has been exhibited at the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, the Vitra Design Museum in Germany and the Guggenheim Museum in Spain. Jeyifous has received many grants and fellowships from the New York Foundation of the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts and the Brooklyn Arts Council. He has completed artist residencies with the Headlands Center for the Arts, Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts and the Drawing Center’s Open Sessions program, and was named a Wilder Green Fellow at the MacDowell Colony. Learn more at vigilism.com.
About the Title
“Wrought” means shaped, hammered, or manufactured, a reference to the sculptures in the installation. It holds dual meaning, also signifying transformation through adversity, struggle, or hardship.
“Knit” means to weave, stitch, or unite, a reference to the ground mural that is inspired by African-American narrative quilts. For this installation, it also alludes to the histories and futures Alexandria’s communities, inextricably intertwined.
“Labors” and “Legacies” employ multiple meanings from enslaved labor, to industrial labor, to the general work it takes for communities to evolve and grow. They also speak to the cultural inheritances that shape and define the city as it continues to evolve.