Power & Public Space 7: Mabel O. Wilson – Memorial to Enslaved Labourers, University of Virginia

Matthew Blunderfield and Mabel O. Wilson

Power & Public Space is a podcast from Drawing Matter and the Architecture Foundation hosted by Matthew Blunderfield. You can find the full podcast series here. Or listen now:

In 2020 The Memorial to Enslaved Labourers opened at the University of Virginia, designed as a collaboration between Höweler+Yoon Architecture, Mabel O. Wilson, landscape architects Gregg Bleam and Frank Dukes, and the artist Eto Otitigbe. 

As Mabel O. Wilson has explained, ‘civic buildings and monuments in the U.S. are often emblematic of a disavowal of the founding precepts of liberty, equality and justice, where they become sites to imagine and enact american whiteness’. In this episode Wilson discusses how the memorial was conceived and designed to assert its position within the campus’s eurocentric architectural context, whilst addressing the university’s history of racism and recovering lost narratives of enslaved people in the process. 

Section showing UVA rotunda, designed by Thomas Jefferson after the Pantheon and built in 1826, and the Memorial to Enslaved Labourers, built in 2020. The footprint of the new memorial echoes that of the rotunda, but it is a demonstrably open space for public gathering and the restoration of histories of slavery formerly lost to public record. (Image by Höweler+Yoon, 2020).