“Shadows at the Crossroads,” a new commission by Twin Cities–based artists Seitu Jones and Ta-coumba Aiken was unveiled at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.
A continuation of a project created for Nicollet Mall in 1992, “Shadows at the Crossroads” consists of seven sculptures celebrating important figures in Minnesota history. Together, the artists traced the shadows of community members and then worked with the Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council to select the silhouettes that will appear in the Garden.
For the past three decades, Jones and Aiken have each built bodies of work that encompass painting, sculpture, public works, and environmental design. Their overlapping interests in public art and community engagement have led to a number of projects that the artists have made as a duo.
Both artists actively focus on the potential of art to change society. Their past collaborations include their 2005 mural project “Celebration of Life,” located at Olson Memorial Highway and Lyndale Avenue in North Minneapolis. The artists are currently creating a set of large-scale artworks for a new housing development for the Rondo Community Land Trust in the historic Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul.
“Shadows at the Crossroads” includes poetry by Rosemary Soyini Vinelle Guyton inscribed on each shadow. The seven shadows in the downtown Minneapolis installation represent stories of "Minnesota's heroes," some known, others unsung.
For the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Aiken and Jones have developed an extension of the Nicollet Mall project. For the new work, the artists have once again have identified a group of individuals to be honored and celebrated in their public artwork.
In making the 2019 piece, the artists collaborated with the Walker Art Center's Teen Arts Council (WACTAC), a nationally recognized program that Jones helped to launch in the early 1990s, when he was part of the museum's department of Education and Community Programs. To “capture” the shape of each piece, the artists worked with WACTAC members to trace the shadows of more than 40 community members and then choose the seven silhouettes for the new project in the Garden. The artists then selected the individuals the shadows would commemorate, which range from specific historical figures to more general impressions.
The seven sculptures in Jones and Aiken's project are “Maḣpiya Wicaṡṭa (Cloud Man),” central to Minnesota history, leading a Dakota agricultural community, Ḣeyate Otuŋwe (Village to the Side), on the shores of Bde Maka Ska throughout the 1830s, “Harriet Robinson Scott,” honoring an African-American slave who, with her husband, Dred Scott, unsuccessfully sued for their freedom, “Untitled (Child),” “Time,” “Eliza Winston,” honoring a slave from Mississippi, who, when traveling with her owners to St. Anthony, (a free territory) was able to successfully sue for her freedom, “Kirk Washington, Jr.,” honoring artist, poet and activist with deep roots in the North Minneapolis community, who was killed in a car crash in 2016 and “Siah Armajani,” honoring the artist who immigrated to Minnesota from Iran in 1960 and became a leading voice for public art.
In the Garden, four of the sculptures are cast in bronze and set into the concrete pathways, two are etched into the sidewalks and the final shadow exist as a work only visible when wet from the elements.