Now Open: Waterfront Art Reflects African American History in Alexandria

Wrought, Knit, Labors, Legacies, the second of the Site See: New Views in Old Town Pubic Art Series showcases the work of Olalekan Jeyifous. (Photo: City of Alexandria)

ALEXANDRIA, VA – The City of Alexandria presents its newest waterfront art installation, Wrought, Knit, Labors, Legacies, in Alexandria’s Waterfront Park (1 Prince St.). This new temporary installation is the second in the Site See: New Views in Old Town annual public art series, and will be on display through November 2020. It follows SOFTlab’s 2019 Mirror Mirror installation.

Wrought, Knit, Labors, Legacies frames Alexandria’s African American history through the lens of the city’s merchant and manufacturing industries of the 17th to 20th centuries. Once a prosperous port city that was home to one of the largest domestic slave trading firms in the country, Alexandria was a major center for shipping and manufacturing with an economy inextricably tied to the labor of enslaved and free African Americans. A ground mural echoes African American quilting and textile traditions using icons that represent some of Alexandria’s historic industries: fishing, flour, tobacco and railways. From this colorful surface, four large, ornate metal profiles face the water and are wrapped in sculptural seating illuminated in low light.

In the fall, a series of commissioned performances inspired by Wrought, Knit, Labors, Legacies will complement the art installation at Waterfront Park. The series will feature poets and spoken-word artists curated by Alexandria’s Poet Laureate KaNikki Jakarta, as well as movement-based performances by Tariq O’Meally. The performances will follow applicable physical distancing and health guidance. The Site See temporary public art and performance series highlights Waterfront Park as a civic space and is informed by the historic waterfront and neighboring community. Olalekan Jeyifous was commissioned to create this original site-specific work and was selected by a community task force with the approval of the Alexandria Commission for the Arts.

The art was installed in late March, but due to COVID-19 health guidelines, it remained closed to the public until Alexandria entered Phase Three of the “Forward Virginia” blueprint.

The Alexandria Health Department (AHD) reminds everyone there is still community spread of COVID-19. People can catch the virus when they touch contaminated objects and then touch their mouths, noses or eyes, as well as when they have close contact with others who may have the virus. Everyone must weigh the risks and benefits of going out in public, and of using public parks. Risks include contracting the illness and becoming severely ill, as well as the potential for spreading the virus among family and household members who may be at high risk (for example, older adults and those with underlying medical conditions). Benefits include the physical, mental and emotional rewards of getting outdoors and being physically active.

People should only visit parks and public places if they are not sick. They should frequently use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. In accordance with CDC guidance, AHD reminds everyone that face coverings are essential when physical distancing is not possible, but they should not be used by children younger than 2 years of age or by anyone who has trouble breathing. AHD advises families to only visit public places that are not crowded and to maintain 6 feet apart from those outside their household.

Visit alexandriava.gov/PublicArt for more information about Wrought, Knit, Labors, Legacies, the Site See project, and for a list of upcoming performances and events. 

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