“Peacing Shirley,” a project focused on the significant contributions and lasting impact of Teachers College alumna Shirley Anita Chisholm, an American politician who in 1968 became the first black woman elected to the United States Congress. A native New Yorker, Chisholm represented New York’s 12th congressional district, a district centered on Bedford–Stuyvesant, for seven terms from 1969 to 1983. She also was the first woman and African American to seek the nomination for president of the United States from one of the two major political parties (1972).
Peacing Shirley was created by Monben, in collaboration with The Gottesman Libraries at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City. The installation, artwork, and curated book display will be on show at The Gottesman Libraries in NYC from September through November 2022.
Monben’s intention for “Peacing Shirley” is to use the power of artistic imagination to simultaneously invoke Congresswoman Chisholm’s dedication to democracy and public service; her commitment to peacemaking and collective action for justice; and her everlasting connection to Teachers College — all in one visual experience. The title “Peacing Shirley” is intentionally a double entendre. In engaging with this installation– which represents so many components of Shirley Chisholm’s life, career, and wide range of interests– the viewers are “Piecing” together Chisolm’s legacy for themselves.
The title “Peacing Shirley” doubles an allusion to a contemporary register of English spoken by [Black] Americans on the East Coast in places like New York and New Jersey, where to “peace” someone (i.e. “She peaced me when she saw me”) means to greet them or say hello to them.
Representations of Black Women in 20th Century United States & Beyond
The accompanying Everett Café book display, Representations of Black Women in Twentieth Century United States and Beyond, curated by Monben and designed by Trisha Barton, highlights the personal and political lives of Black American women in the twentieth century. The book display serves to illuminate the artwork which will be on display at Gottesman Libraries, in the Kasser Family Exhibition Space, The original painting, Peacing Shirley, will be installed later this year in the landmark Tudor Room, 271 Grace Dodge, a permanent gallery for some of Teachers College, Columbia University’s most prized historical portraiture.
The experience of the Black woman in the United States during the twentieth century is one that is highly complex and variable. Towards the earlier half of the twentieth century, less than fifty years following the abolition of chattel slavery, Black women became the first to record Blues music. This music, which was influenced by the Negro spirituals sung on slave plantations, often contained accounts of the everyday problems faced by working class people at the time whose everyday problems included issues with racism, dealing with poverty, losing love, migration, and keeping a family.
Despite the level of fame and notoriety Blues women often gained, their music remained relatable to other working class Black women. Titles such as Blues Legacies and Black Feminism paint an image of this time in history, while novels such as The Bluest Eye and The Color Purple allow readers to “travel” to this time period through the subjecthood of their working-class protagonists.