Mabel O. Wilson: Memory/Race/Nation: The Politics of Modern Memorials

An installation located in a public garden, covered by a large, black tarp

photo / provided

Edgar A. Tafel Lecture Series

Mabel O. Wilson is the Nancy and George E. Rupp Professor in Architecture and also a professor in African American and African diasporic studies at Columbia University, and the associate director of the Institute for Research in African American Studies. She has authored Begin with the Past: Building the National Museum of African American History, and Culture and Negro Building: African Americans in the World of Fairs and Museums. With her practice Studio And, she is a collaborator in the architectural team currently developing designs for the Memorial to Enslaved African American Laborers at the University of Virginia. Her work has been featured at the Venice Biennale of Architecture, Architekturmuseum der TU Mūnchen, Storefront for Art and Architecture, Art Institute of Chicago, Istanbul Design Biennale, Wexner Center for the Arts, and the Smithsonian's Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum's Triennial. She's a founding member of Who Builds Your Architecture?, a collective that advocates for fair labor practices on building sites worldwide.


The recent fiery debates and now deadly protests sparked by the removals of Confederate war monuments around the U.S. raises important questions about the racialized origins of American democracy, and, as a consequence, whether public representations can ever truly represent foundational ideals of liberty, equality, and justice for all. Wilson's talk will explore the blueprint for the biopolitics of the U.S. social order, one where white citizens — idealized in the bronze figures of soldiers, politicians, and muses — have thrived at the expense of the lives and labor of black and brown bodies, what Michel Foucault formulated in the modern racial state's power dynamic of "to 'make' live and 'let' die."