For the 2018 E/AB Fair, Catharine Clark Gallery and Mullowney Printing, San Francisco, present a booth of gravures by Sandow Birk from the series "Imaginary Monuments" (2007-ongoing), and a woodcut titled "American Procession" (2017) co-authored by Sandow Birk and Elyse Pignolet.
Works in "Imaginary Monuments" depict historical texts housed within proposed monuments that honor or enshrine the text's topic. Most of the monuments incorporate multiple documents, conveying in words and images the complex and sometimes conflicting histories and opinions behind subjects such as the judicial system, incarceration, economics, capitalism, trade, immigration, slavery, freedom of speech, treaties, governance, social justice and civil rights. Birk's seminal monument drawing, now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, faithfully reproduces the articles of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and all amendments as of 2012. Birk's visual interpretation of these texts, whether as a drawing or gravure, illuminates the ideas in the articles of the Constitution while also illustrating and exposing how US citizens, the government and the courts have applied and interpreted the texts across time. Birk further shows the Constitution as an evolving document. By representing a building under-construction, Birk leaves space in his rendering for future amendments.
"Universal Declaration of Human Rights" (2012), is the second gravure in "Imaginary Monuments". The source text is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted in Paris on December 10, 1948, and considered the "magna carta of human rights." Birk's transcription encircles a leaning and towering column resembling the obelisk in the Place Vendôme, Paris. It is propped up by scaffolding and foregrounds a skyline of skyscrapers and shacks. The original Universal Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. It defines, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected. Birk's monument suggests that at this point in history, given the contrast between the lofty buildings (monuments to wealth and power) and putrefying favelas (monuments to poverty and income inequality), human rights may require some support.
"Excavating the Foundation of the Unfinished Temple of Human Rights" (2015), is the third gravure in "Imaginary Monuments". Birk has conceptualized the architecture for this monument as an archaeological site where proposals for women's rights throughout US history are being uncovered. The Declaration of Rights and Sentiments, written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton (and others), and the Lucretia Mott Amendment were presented at the Woman's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, July 19–20, 1848. Their statements were the first attempts at passing women's equality legislation. The Declaration of Sentiments and eleven other resolutions were adopted readily, but the proposal for women's suffrage was passed only after impassioned speeches by Stanton and former slave Frederick Douglass, who said suffrage "was the right by which all others could be secured." After the 19th Amendment affirming women's right to vote was ratified in 1920, suffragist leader Alice Paul introduced the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923 as the next step in bringing "equal justice under law" to all citizens. In 1972, the ERA was finally passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification. The political tide turned more conservative, however, and in 1980 the Republican Party removed ERA support from its platform. Although pro-ERA activities increased with lobbying, rallies and civil disobedience, the ERA failed to get the final three state ratifications that were needed. The Equal Rights Amendment was reintroduced in Congress on July 14, 1982 and has been before every session of Congress since that time. Later bills imposed no deadline on the ERA ratification process. Yet, success in putting the ERA into the Constitution via this process requires passage by a two-thirds majority in each house of Congress and ratification by 38 states. The country remains unwilling to guarantee women constitutional rights equal to those of men in the form of a ratified amendment.
"Proposal for a Monument to the Declaration of Independence (and a Pavilion to Frederick Douglass)" (2018), is the fourth gravure in the series. The work, like the Douglass speech it references, reflects on how freedom is unequally distributed to people of color. There are two structures represented in the image: one with the Declaration of Independence transcribed on a neo-classical building; the other with excerptsfrom What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?, the popular title given to an untitled speech by Frederick Douglass, July 5, 1852, that was delivered to the Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society in Corinthian Hall, Rochester, New York, and represented by Birk as text on the surface of a rock-like structure. Douglass's speech suggests that positive statements about American values, such as liberty, citizenship and freedom, were an offense to the enslaved people of the United States, because the slaves were denied such rights. Douglass compares the treatment of slaves to that of American colonists under British rule and urges Americans to help the slaves as they helped themselves during the American Revolution. A third text is depicted on a panel suspended from a chain extending from the building bearing the text of the Declaration of Independence. This additional text was penned by Thomas Jefferson in the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. In it he denounces the slave trade as "execrable commerce" and slavery as a "cruel war against nature itself." This passage on slavery, which was redacted in the final version of the Declaration, initiated an intense debate among the delegates gathered in Philadelphia in 1776. Birk reproduces the redacted text on a hanging panel, suspended atop shackles casting a shadow on the monument that bears the final version of the Declaration.
"American Procession" (2017), is a monumentally-scaled (48 x 480 inches; 121.92 x 1219.20 centimeters), tripartite woodcut, hand-embellished with gold acrylic, co-authored by Sandow Birk and Elyse Pignolet. The work pictures depicts figures from American history (pre-colonial to the present) marching toward a central image of a triumphal arch in disrepair and a replica of the US capitol that resembles a stage prop. Birk and Pignolet were inspired to create a woodcut of this scale after seeing the Der Fürstenzug (Procession of Princes) mural on the wall of the Stables Courtyard, Dresden Castle, Germany. The mural, made from Meissen porcelain tiles, is the largest ceramic artwork in the world (331 feet wide; 101 meters). It depicts 25 Saxon royalty of the House of Wetting (1127-1904). Originally conceptualized by Wilhelm Walther between 1871-1876, it was later rendered in porcelain from 1904-1907. Using the scale, palette and composition of Der Fürstenzug as a point of departure for American Procession, Birk and Pignolet replace the royal figures with progressives (left panel) and conservatives (right panel), including many lesser known by the American public. Each group marches toward the central panel depicting an image of a landscape filled with scattered debris: a police car, the Liberty torch, portions of the Hollywood sign, an electric chair, a noose, a rural home and an old tire.