Call For Proposals (deadline extended)
The Chicago Torture Justice Memorials
Deadline: May 19, 2012
Venue: Sites throughout the Chicagoland area and a website
Curators: A panel of prominent area critics, artists, and community members will curate the submissions into roving exhibitions.
Eligibility: Submissions may be made by a person of any age and nationality.
Criteria for proposals:
A proposed monument may take any form – from architecture to haiku, from website to mural, from community organization to performance, from bronze plaque to large-scale memorial.
Submission process: the submission can be in the form of a PDF, PPT, webpage, or other accessible electronic format. Non-electronic submissions will also be accepted; please contact email@example.com to arrange delivery or mail to:
Chicago Torture Justice Memorial Project (CTJM Project)
c/o People’s Law Office
1180 N. Milwaukee
Chicago, Illinois 60642
Historical background: Between 1972 and 1991, over 100 African-American men and women were tortured by white police detectives under the command of former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge at Area 2 and 3 Police Headquarters on Chicago’s South Side. The torture included electric shock, sexual abuse, suffocation and beatings. Those tortured were also subjected to racial epithets and death threats. Coerced confessions resulted in scores of convictions and long prison terms, and 11 sentences of death. Many of the survivors have since been exonerated and released, and all those sentenced to death have either been freed or removed from death row. Over 20 Burge police torture survivors remain incarcerated. In 2010, 30 years after the first reported acts of brutality, Burge was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice for denying the torture he and others committed. He was sentenced to four and a half years in prison. Except for this single federal conviction, no other Chicago police officer, state’s attorney, or city official has been held accountable (nor apologized) for the many acts of torture that occurred by their hand or under their watch.
Prior monuments to victims of oppression: Monuments to state-sanctioned crimes, abuses of power, and systemic injustices are rare, particularly in the United States. More often than not, monuments recall triumphs of one kind or another and commemorate victors in war or other contests. But there are times when nations or communities find it right or expedient to recall, mourn, and honor the struggles of those whom it has victimized, injured or destroyed. As a tribute to the thousands of Cherokee Indians killed during a notorious forced march in 1838, the National Park Service administers a more than 2,000-mile Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.
The era of Jim Crow and the lynching of African-Americans in the 20th century are commemorated by a number of small plaques and historical markers, as well as by a memorial plaza and sculptural group in Duluth, Minnesota dedicated in 2003. That monument however, recalling the lynching of three black men in 1920, was already superseded by a less tangible monument conceived a generation earlier in Bob Dylan’s song “Desolation Row” (1965) which contains a twelve-line verse dedicated to the event. Dylan’s song, in turn, recalls “Strange Fruit,” the great, anti-lynching anthem written by Abel Meerpol and first recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939. Other notable monuments to working class victims of oppression include the monument to the murdered Homestead iron and steel workers, (erected in 1941 by the Steel Workers Union), the Haymarket Martyr’s Memorial in Forest Home Cemetery, and the uncompleted monument at Haymarket Square in Chicago. In Santiago, Chile, a Museum of Memory and Human Rights recently opened, memorializing the torture committed under Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship.
Some monuments to victims and survivors reverse established or official perspectives on a conflict. For example, while Maya Lin’s famous Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, commemorates U.S. soldiers who died in the US War against Vietnam with a wall of names that you can touch, Harrell Fletcher’s memorial titled The American War brings a Vietnamese perspective to the conflict by exhibiting photographs from the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. (There, the Vietnam war is referred to as “the American War.”)
The best known victim monuments are of course those dedicated to the murdered Jews of Europe, the most famous of which is Peter Eisenman’s Berlin Holocaust Memorial, consisting of 2, 711 rectangular, concrete slabs of varying heights arranged in a grid on a nearly five-acre site near the Brandenburg gate, costing approximately 25 million Euros to build. However Berlin also contains a far less monumental and expensive remembrance of the victims of Nazism: Gunter Demnig’s Stoplersteine or stumbling blocks. These are small, brass-covered concrete blocks inscribed with the name, date of birth, date of deportation and final fate (if known) of people seized by the Nazis. There are now about 3,000 in Berlin alone, and another 20,000 in towns and cities across Europe. Each monument, set flush with the pavement in front of the victim’s house, is paid for by private donations, costing about 100 Euros a piece. Micha Ulman’s Bibliotek Monument on Bebelplatz Square in Berlin is a different kind of Holocaust memorial, commemorating the Nazi book burnings that began in 1933, and the destruction of art, literature and wisdom itself.
As the summary above indicates, monuments to the victims of violence and oppression can take many forms. We might have added that there are innumerable small ex votos (or votive offerings) in churches or homes dedicated to saints or deities, made in honor of a deceased loved one. In addition, there are roadside commemorations – sometimes consisting of nothing more than bouquets, balloons or stuffed animals — of people killed by car crashes, bicycle accidents, crimes and political violence. In Argentina beginning in 1977, the Mothers of the Disappeared marched every day at the Plaza de Mayo in silent protest over the government’s abduction of their children. They became a living monument, and their almost three decades of protest helped not only to galvanize opposition to the Argentine dictatorship, but to help launch many other protest movements – especially for women’s rights and gay rights.
Program for Chicago Torture Justice Memorials: The word monument, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is a noun, signifying a tomb, a structure of historical importance, a written document, a memorial, an enduring example of something, a reminder of a person or event, and a classic work of art or literature. The proposed Justice Monument can therefore take any form – stone, concrete, bronze, paint, song, ritual performance, website – so long as it is long-lasting. But the word monument also has a second, more uncommon usage as a transitive verb, signifying commemoration, remembrance and actively bringing something to mind. This sense of the word — as in “the survivors of police Commander Burge and his crew wish to memorialize their torture and abuse” – is what the sponsors of the Monument particularly embrace. Not only could the Monument force into mind and memory the decades of police torture and its consequences, it could encourage engagement, action, protest, revival and renewal. We seek submissions that will remind the Chicagoland community and the world that terrible crimes were committed under the cover of law, and that encourage people and organizations to imagine new ways to end racist oppression and police violence.