Alexandria Smith:
Monuments to an Effigy

Alexandria Smith’s Monuments to an Effigy takes the histories of the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground and the Macedonia A.M.E. Church in Flushing, Queens as points of departure for an exhibition that evokes an altar or commemorative space.

In the mid-late nineteenth century, the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground was a burial space for African-Americans and Native Americans. Parishioners of the nearby Macedonia A.M.E. Church, a landmark for Flushing’s historic African-American community, were among those interred at the burial ground. The last burial took place in 1898, and in the 1930s, the Parks Department paved over the site, building a playground in 1938. But–due to the tireless work of many–the site was recognized for its original purpose in 2006 and is now a meditative area that respects the hundreds still buried there.

Smith explores narrative, memory, and myth through the lens of the Black female form and psyche. For this exhibition, the artist responds to the stories of those who were buried at the site. Of the four marked gravestones discovered from the burial ground, only male members of the Bunn and Curry families are listed. Smith’s work honors the unnamed women laid to rest at the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground and those who participated in the Flushing Underground Railroad network which included the Macedonia A.M.E. Church.

The artists fragmented characters, landscapes, and architectural surrogates, pay tribute to these histories by rooting or lifting themselves in space. Eyes, pigtails, masks, limbs, breasts, and fingers either sprout from the ground or defy gravity. Smith’s works, installed in pairs or doppelgängers, embody a complex and often divided self across generations. How can we rectify the stories that have been erased? The symbols in Monuments to an Effigy are at once both ancient and futuristic, as the artist channels the ancestors whose stories continue to be reclaimed and reimagined.

A cornerstone of the exhibition is At Council; Found Peace, a composition by Liz Gré in collaboration with Smith. This piece for cello, soprano, and spoken voice that combines the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks with gospel tonality explores the process of seeking guidance from those who came before. As Smith’s work connects with the spiritual realm, her visions of Black women in moments of empathy, joy, and pain recognize the resilience and strength that will continue to shape history.

Alexandria Smith is a recipient of the 2018-2019 Queens Museum/Jerome Foundation Fellowship for Emerging Artists. Smith and fellow recipient, American Artist, were selected by a five-person selection panel consisting of Lumi Tan, Curator at The Kitchen, New York; Anthony Elms, Daniel and Brett Sundheim Chief Curator at The Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; Queens Museum’s Director of Exhibitions, Hitomi Iwasaki; QM Assistant Curator, Sophia Marisa Lucas; and QM Assistant Curator for Public Programs, Lindsey Berfond.

Alexandria Smith (b. 1981, Bronx, NY) earned her BFA in Illustration from Syracuse University, an MA in Art Education from New York University, and an MFA in Painting and Drawing from Parsons The New School for Design. Smith is the recipient of numerous awards and residencies including: MacDowell, Bemis and Yaddo; LMCC Process Space Residency, a Pollock-Krasner Grant, the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture Fellowship, the Virginia A. Myers Fellowship at the University of Iowa and the Fine Arts Work Center Fellowship. Her recent exhibitions include: a solo exhibition at Boston University (Fall 2018), the first annual Wanda D. Ewing Commission and solo exhibit at The Union for Contemporary Art in Omaha, NE, a traveling group exhibition Black Pulp at Yale University, International Print Center NY (IPCNY), USF and Wesleyan University and a commission for the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Her work is currently included in The Lure of the Dark: Contemporary Painters Conjure the Night at Mass MoCA.

The Queens Museum/Jerome Foundation Fellowship Program for Emerging Artists in New York City is generously supported by the Jerome Foundation. Major funding for the Queens Museum is generously provided by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, the Lambent Foundation, the Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Inc., and the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.

Image: Alexandria Smith, GloryGlory…, 2019 (detail). Mixed media collage installation on canvas and wood. Courtesy the artist.