Art History



Degree Name

Master of Arts in Art History (M.A.)

Type of Paper/Work

Qualifying paper


Heather M. Shirey

Second Advisor

Victoria Young

Third Advisor

Craig Eliason


Commemoration is about whose memories count. Impressive monuments of stone and bronze anchor sanctioned memories in public landscapes, but a closer look can reveal counter monuments made up of disqualified memories and silenced histories in defiance of the official public narrative. Kara Walker’s Fons Americanus opened at the Tate Modern on October 2, 2019. It is an officially commissioned monumental fountain confronting the glory of the British Empire, telling stories of the danger and suffering upon which the empire was built. Equally evocative, the illustrious Robert E. Lee monument (1890) in Richmond, Virginia experienced a grassroots transformation into a graffiti and message-cloaked counter monument around May 30, 2020 as protests spread resulting from the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Counter monuments use suppressed knowledge to generate empathy and energy through resistance to the official roles of monuments or to a specific monument in particular. Kara Walker incorporates forgotten histories and disqualified knowledge into allegorical figures which expose imperial atrocities. The transfigured Confederate monument challenges its original white supremacist narrative, and the crowd alterations call attention to the dismissed stories of oppression that persist. Utilizing Michel Foucault’s theories of subjugated knowledge, this work discusses the ways counter monuments use such knowledge to create faults in the official narrative. Fons Americanus and altered Confederate monuments are examples of antiracist counter monuments. Ibram Kendi, in How to be an Antiracist, offers a structure by which works of counter memory can be interrogated as antiracist. Using this framework, this research argues that counter monuments appear in a variety of forms and create a focused disruption of the status quo which can engender empathy, imply complicity and stimulate antiracist discussion and action.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.