Projection-Based Protest Artists Receive Grant, Expand Richmond’s Protest Art Movement

Following the removal of the Robert E. Lee memorial statue, the location now remains barren surrounded by a chain-link fence. Photo by Kaitlyn Fulmore

Mackenzie Meleski, Contributing author

Reclaiming The Monument, a protest art project based on projections by Richmond artists Dustin Klein and Alex Criqui, has received a $670,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Monumental Project.

“Our hope is that we can use the generosity of the Mellon Foundation to create artwork that conveys the messages of these activists and highlights some of the hidden stories and their legacies of injustice that they stand for,” said Criqui.

The duo are best known for projecting the face of George Floyd, following his murder by former police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, onto the former statue of Robert E. Lee on Richmond’s Monument Avenue in 2020.

Since then, the statue and the area around it have become the most famous pieces of protest art in the United States, taking the top spot in The New York Times’ “25 Most Influential Pieces of Protest Art Since World War II.”

At night, protesters gathered around the statue and George Floyd’s face was projected onto the statue in tribute.

“We wanted to push back against this symbol of white supremacy by fighting art that spoke of oppression with art that spoke of justice,” Klein said.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is a non-profit organization located in New York. The foundation provides grants to arts and humanities organizations across the United States with the goal of “enriching communities,” according to the website.

“The project will shed light on overlooked but important historical, racial and social justice issues,” the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation states on its website.

The Monuments Project is a “five-year project $250 million commitment to reimagine and rebuild memorial spaces and transform the way history is told in the United States,” according to their website.

The “Tell the Truth About American History” screening at the Robert E. Lee Monument in June 2021. Photo courtesy of The Monument Project

Following the removal of all Confederate monuments in Richmond, the project seeks to create new ways to commemorate history by creating new monuments, deepening education and relocating existing monuments. Reclaiming The Monument will use the grant received from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to create five new projection-based art installations in Richmond in January 2022, according to Criqui and Klein.

Two of the art installations will be created at Belle Isle and at the African Cemetery, located in Shockoe Bottom. They will be displayed later in 2022, according to Klein.

Klein and Criqui will collaborate with several organizations across Richmond, such as Sacred Ground Reclamation Project, History is Illuminating and the Richmond Indigenous Society. Reclaiming The Monument is currently holding an open call for artists who want to be part of their organization and encourage VCUarts students to participate, according to Klein.

“We will also help new and emerging artists create their own public art through small-scale art grants,” Criqui said.

The Valentine, a museum located in 1015 E. Clay St., is working in collaboration with Reclaiming The Monument on this project. They will contribute historical files and photographs to the project, according to Klein and Criqui. The museum has been teaching and interpreting Richmond’s history for more than a century, according to the Valentine’s Day website.

Museum staff will interview people who visit the new art installations and document the installations through photography, according to director Bill Martin.

The interviews and data gathered will help The Valentine with its current and future programming, according to Martin.

“We want to know what people’s attitudes are towards Richmond’s history,” Martin said, “There might be a particular period in history that people are interested in that we’re not covering.”

The museum also collected photos and interviews from the June 2020 protests in Richmond, including Criqui and Klein’s initial screenings of the Robert E. Lee statue. They currently hold the information collected in their numerous files. Martin said the events were a defining moment in Richmond’s history.

It was an important opportunity for the community to come together not just for the project, but for the cause. said Martin.

Klein and Criqui also said their goal is to bring hidden stories to light and create a more inclusive community.

“Fortunately, art is a medium for having difficult conversations and for people to encounter these stories in a way that can speak more directly to the human spirit,” Criqui said.

Christopher S. Washington