About the Project

re:mancipation is a collaborative project planned over the next two years with the Chazen Museum of Art (University of Wisconsin-Madison), artist Sanford Biggers, and MASK Consortium. The project will engage with a sculpture in the museum collection, “Emancipation Group,” by American sculptor, Thomas Ball, which depicts Abraham Lincoln standing over a kneeling freedman. Using the sculpture as its central focus, re:mancipation will seek to explore, dissect, and better understand racism in America. The final deliverables throughout the multi-year endeavor will include the creation of a new artwork by Biggers, a documentary about the project, both in-person and virtual exhibitions, the development of an extensive national symposium series, and the production of supporting research, archival, and educational material.

A core value of this project is transparency about process.  This website, launching in October 2021, will continue to evolve, change, grow along with the project.  Sections will be added as work is completed, or begun.  It is intended to spark interest and engagement.  We expect to add content and have that content interrogated and discussed.  So often museums (and artists) reveal work once it is complete. Creation is messy. A stated mission of this project is to allow the vulnerability of incompleteness from the beginning.

Re:spond

Perspectives from the People

  • “What stands out to me in this piece is how the slaves kneeling underneath Lincoln not equal but as a servant. When he is supposed to be freeing a slave, why isn’t Lincoln looking him in the eye like a man? Why does the slave not look happier? Is it because he knows racism will be there forever?” Duane McKaa Jr, The Odyssey Project at UW-Madison.
    • “I am reminded every single day that I am less than a white person, whether I want to admit it or not.” AnonymousPBS News Hour
    • “This statue represents the oppression of Black people.” AnonymousPBS News Hour
    • “I see an African American male figure on one knee, and he’s in the process of rising. His head was up. He was looking forward to a life of freedom. And that’s what I saw.” Marcia Cole, descendant of the freed slave who started the memorial fundPBS News Hour
    • “What I want to see is a reasoned process that allows us to discuss, that allows us to bring history before we make decisions of pulling things down. I think that, yes, we could take that statue down. We could replace it with a statue that just talks about the enslaved. And I think what we’d do is, while, on the one hand, we enrich our understanding, on the other hand, I think we lose the opportunity to help people understand more about Lincoln and who he was and what he did.” Lonnie Bunch, Secretary Smithsonian Museum, PBS News Hour
    • “To erect a monument in public space takes power and authority. The monuments themselves defend that power and justify that authority. Because these heroes were monumentalized — made of “imperishable” materials so as to become “timeless” in their seats of honor — their legacy continues to dominate us” Kirk Savage, Standing Soldiers Kneeling Slaves

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Thomas Ball’s The Emancipation Group has been on display at the University of Wisconsin’s Chazen Museum of Art (Originally the Elvehjem Art Center) since it’s acquisition in 1976. Virtually visit Gallery IV, the “Ball Room” to experience this Marble Emancipation Group version in its original display content and explore other artworks that reinforce problematic themes being unpacked by the re:mancipation Project investigative process.

Project Timeline

Project start date: Q2, 2022

Virtual Exhibition I: Q4 2021

Campus Performance Art + Installation: Q2 2022

Physical + Virtual Exhibition: Q1 2023

Exhibition Tour: 2024

re:mancipation