Your Mommas Voice in the Back of Your Head
On December 27 Najja Moon’s public art sculpture Your Momma’s Voice in the Back of Your Head was maliciously vandalized in a racist and homophobic manner and was later intentionally destroyed on January 17.
The work is part of The Bass’ New Monuments program, an open call to Miami-based artists to create a temporary new monument in Collins Park in Miami Beach. The program expands on the international debate on monuments, providing a public platform for artists to reconsider who monuments honor, their purpose and relevance, and the validity of their continued existence.
These recent incidents urgently demonstrate the continued need for museums to provide a forum for open dialogue and reflection, condemning hateful beliefs that continue to spread discrimination in our communities.
The Bass unequivocally stands against supremacy of any kind, and especially opposes acts of hate speech and the destruction of public art. Furthermore, The Bass remains steadfast in defending artistic freedom of expression. The museum is fully committed to supporting Najja as we process these events together as a community, actively working with her to find a way forward that is authentic to her voice as an artist.
ARTIST STATEMENT IN RESPONSE
In 2020, I was awarded The Bass’ New Monuments commission. In 2021, I installed the monument I had created in response to the commission, “Your Momma’s Voice in the Back of Your Head,” in Collins Park. On December 27th, 2021, the monument was defaced. It was a violent attack which included 6 hand cut stenciled messages including “ignorant nigger”, “dike bitch” and others. The following statement was edited from a Google document based conversation with writer and friend Jessica Lynne.
I had two major intentions with this work: I wanted to demonstrate how important the role of mother can be to a person and also acknowledge how flawed mothers can be. I felt like “mother” as a subject made it possible to include the public in an honest and variable way. This type of relationship exists across the spectrums of age, gender, race, faith, sexual orientation. I wanted to explore the possibility that a monument could relate to everyone. So the work was made with a collective audience in mind.
I think the word “monument” is used to glorify something and the word “memorial” is used to acknowledge a less positive past. My offering to this conversation around new monuments was to think through ways that oral histories function as documentation of the past; their utterance is a monument. Some of the stories we tell about people, places and things that we remember are not always positive. But their memory still lingers. That memory is a monument.
When I first learned of the defacement I had several “initial” responses: maybe it was a graffiti tag, perhaps an etching on the glass. I envisioned that for the following 2-3 months, this object I made that repeats other people’s memories would continue to collect other people’s thoughts. I acknowledged that this possibility may be aligned with the museum’s intentions of participating in a larger dialogue around contested monuments.
When images of the defacement were shared with me, explicitly depicting what had taken place, what I previously perceived as a public response became incredibly personally weighted. I was shocked. I became immediately paranoid and so hurt. I dreamed about it every night. The thought that there was some unreconciled pain that I inflicted on someone that would result in this kind of violent language hurt me as a person who loves people. Words hurt. I made a monument to my mother, to all our mothers and now I have to tell my mom that someone called me a dyke bitch and an ignorant nigger.
The vehicle of public art has been an exciting and comfortable way for me to work. In this moment of discomfort, I am even more aware of its potential to connect with people and instigate the best and worst parts of ourselves. I am also more aware of my vulnerability in public as a queer, Black woman. By working in the realm of public art, in some way, I give folks access to me. There is a certain level of innocence that I approached this project with, that I want to hold on to. I am also learning how to balance that earnestness with more care for myself and greater confidence when acknowledging that trust has been violated. Because by not saying something, I feel I am cosigning a complacency around the perceived dynamics of this multicultural city that I love. Miami is seen as a place apart from the rest of Florida. Folks believe we don’t have “those problems” here. We can’t get to the better version of what is next, if we try to believe that is true.
March 1, 2022, Najja Moon
ABOUT THE WORK
Miami-based artist and cultural practitioner Najja Moon has been selected as the inaugural winner of The Bass’ New Monuments commission through an open artist call issued in July 2020 to Miami-based artists. The initiative, which will be renewed for the next five years, is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation through the museum’s Knight Art Commissions Program established in 2019. As part of New Monuments, Najja Moon will install a public sculpture entitled Your Mommas Voice in the Back of Your Head in Collins Park, where it will be on view from March 2021 until January 2022.
Speaking to the deeply personal yet universal relationship between mothers and children, Your Mommas Voice in the Back of Your Head configures multidirectional speakers encased in gradient dichroic glass, echoing mantras, scolds and colloquialisms voiced by Moon’s own mother, as well as those from her friends and family. Through recording sessions open to the public, Moon will also gather the voices of Miami-Dade County residents in English, Spanish and Creole.
Building upon the question of what our monuments represent, Your Mommas Voice in the Back of Your Head will be the first work in the New Monuments series initiated by The Bass. Following Moon, this initiative will select five local artists over the next five years from an open call. Each artist will probe the idea of a monument to provide varying answers with a work of art that will be on view in Collins Park for approximately 10-12 months each.