Can Art Amend Princeton’s History of Slavery?
These days, public sculptures often seem seem intertwined with historical regret. There’s the bronze Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia; the Roger Taney effigy outside the Maryland State House; the Confederate soldier in front of North Carolina’s Durham County Courthouse. This historical regret has inspired a rush to topple sculptures. But the feelings of remorse and shame have also stirred impassioned debate about the ways in which art ought to reflect America’s complex legacy: Who should embody the values of today? What distinguishes art from political propaganda? And which artists will fill the empty plinths?
Princeton University has one answer to these questions with a new public-art project that confronts the school’s participation in the nation’s early sins. On Monday, the university unveiled Impressions of Liberty, by the African American artist Titus Kaphar. The sculpture is the conceptual core of a campus-wide initiative that begins this fall and aims to reconcile the university’s ties to slavery.