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Direct gravure etching on two copper plates printed on two sheets of gampi paper, joined and backed with sekishu kozo paper. Co-published by Mullowney Printing and Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco and Portland, OR.. Edition of 25 plus 8 proofs. Sheet: 44 x 61 inches.
About the work:
“Proposal for a Monument to the Declaration of Independence (and a Pavilion to Frederick Douglass)” (2018), is the fourth gravure in Sandow Birk’s “Imaginary Monuments” 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 excerpts from 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.