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Shadowy exhibits added to Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

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This shadow honors the children of Minneapolis.
This shadow honors the children of Minneapolis. It carries a poem by Soyini Guyton which describes how the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden stands on the site where residents, including children, gathered for parades through the city.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

Visitors to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden will see new shadows there — even on cloudy days.

Artists Seitu Jones and Ta-coumba Aiken have installed a series of shadow representations in the sidewalks commemorating Minneapolitans the artists consider significant but overlooked.

On a recent afternoon, the two venerated artists wrestled with a roll of paper, a heat gun and what they called burnishers, hard plastic plates they used to push the design on paper against the ground.

"Whoa, we are really going to have to burnish that text," said Jones.

"Oh yeah, absolutely!" said Aiken.

 Artist Seitu Jones installs a piece in “Shadows at the Crossroads."
Artist Seitu Jones wields a heat gun as his collaborator Ta-coumba Aiken, standing, and their assistant Nathan Kim watch at the installation of one of the pieces in "Shadows at the Crossroads."
Euan Kerr | MPR News

The project is called "Shadows at the Crossroads."

Most of the pieces installed by Jones and Aiken are bronze, embedded in the sidewalk. Some of them don't look like shadows until you stop and squint. A couple are indentations ground into the concrete.

Each represents somebody, or a lot of people, Jones said.

"And what we wanted to do was really highlight, celebrate and embrace all these folks from Minneapolis's past, who had played a contributing role but who, many times, we weren't aware of," he said. "So, we wanted people to be able to stand in the shadows of all these people who came before."

There's a shadow of the 19th century Dakota leader Mahpiya Wicasta or Cloud Man, who founded an agricultural community on the shores of Bda Maka Ska in 1829. He died in the internment camp built in the shadow of Fort Snelling after the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

This shadow honors Eliza Winston.
This shadow honors Eliza Winston, who was a slave from Mississippi who successfully sued for her freedom when the family that had owned her brought her to a free state.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

There is a shadow for Eliza Winston born in 1830, a slave brought from Mississippi to St. Anthony where she successfully sued for her freedom. The text on her shadow reveals she was once pawned by her owners.

Jones says this project stretches back to the early 1990s.

"I can't exactly remember. Now that does make me seem old," he said. "But it's like 92, 93, it went in. And it went into the Nicollet Mall."

According to Aiken, back then the idea was to create something subtle for the pedestrian mall.

"We wanted to do something what was very unobtrusive but very deep if somebody had time" he said.

Time to consider the meaning of a shadow fixed in the sidewalk.

There's a sign by each shadow identifying who it honors. Most of the seven shadows in the garden are accompanied by poetry written by Soyini Guyton.

Aiken hopes the shadows will be mood boosters, particularly if people see their own shadows cross those on the pathway.

Artists Ta-coumba Aiken and Seitu Jones, work with assistant Nathan Kim.
Artists Ta-coumba Aiken, left, and Seitu Jones, right, work with assistant Nathan Kim, center, while installing part of "Shadows at the Crossroads" in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

"Somebody looks at it and thinks, 'Wow if this shadow is important, maybe I'm important'" he said.

Aiken and Jones worked on the project with the Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council. Together they traced about 40 shadows in different months and at different times of day. That's why some of them initially look more like puddles than human forms.

Aiken says there is another slavery-related shadow which follows on from their original project on Nicollet, where they honored Dred Scott.

"And as we were studying, as the years went by, we went, 'Wait a minute, Dred Scott didn't take this to the Supreme Court, his wife Harriet did.' So, that is why we are doing Harriet Scott here," he said.

There is a shadow for the children of Minneapolis, and one celebrating the members of the Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council. There's another for artist Siah Armajani whose bridge connects the sculpture garden with Loring Park. He is the only person honored who is still alive, and at his request is the only shadow without a poem. 

Artist Ta-coumba Aiken works on a shadow honoring Kirk Washington Jr.
Artist Ta-coumba Aiken works on a shadow honoring Kirk Washington on June 10, 2019.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

And finally, there is the shadow for north Minneapolis artist Kirk Washington. At 18 feet, his shadow is the longest, and it displays one of his own poems.

Walker Art Center visual arts curator Siri Engberg said this one is a little different because it's made from a rain-resistant material.

"That can only be visible when wet," she said. "So, when it rains or when the sprinklers are on it, you'll see an image emerge and the text along with it."

Shadows at the Crossroads will be dedicated at 5 p.m. Thursday.  All the artists will be there.

"You know, this is really not about us," Aiken said, meaning himself and Jones. "This is about all of us, and that spirit that we all carry that gives us strength but sometimes we don't know it's giving us that strength."

In the end, Aiken said, he doesn't know if they chose the shadows, or the shadows chose them.