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Letter: Artistic Judgment

To the Editor:

I am writing to register my protest at the recent decision by Alexandria’ Public Art Committee to disregard the recommendation, made by the stakeholders group, to award the sculpture commission for the Contraband and Freedmen’s Cemetery to Edward Dwight and to give the commission to Mario Chiodo instead.

I would urge the council to revoke this decision. Dwight's design offers a moving depiction of men and women who have endured the injustices and hardships of slavery and still carry themselves with great dignity. Their stalwart courage moves the viewer to compassion and respect. Dwight’s design is a fitting memorial to the men, women, and children buried in the cemetery.

In my judgment Chiodo’s design reduces to abstractions the suffering and endurance of actual men, women, and children. He employs overused symbols — a thorn and a rose — in a design which strikes me as theatrical and overwrought. It seems to me that Chiodo’s clichéd symbols cheapen the experience of those buried in the cemetery, where Dwight’s design embodies their dignity and courage.

According to the Oct. 18 issue of the Alexandria Gazette Packet, the committee rejected Dwight's work because he had "broken the rules" and included a religious symbol. Dwight says that the committee never contacted him about their objections, that the symbols on the sculpture's base include two that might be a reference to God but are mostly secular symbols used by African slaves, and that to separate their religion from these slaves makes no sense.

Dwight’s sculpture is so clearly the superior work; I hope that the committee can find a way to work with the artist to fulfill the recommendations of the Shareholders Group while meeting requirements (for instance, about religious symbols) that the city may need to enforce.

I offer this critique as a working artist who has completed several public sculptures commission, lived in the city of Alexandria for almost 40 years and taught art in the city for almost 20. I would be happy to testify about this before the council.

Margaret (Peggy) Adams Parker

Artist