Today Kerry James Marshall unveiled his largest public sculpture to date: a 25-ton, 30-feet-tall pair of stacked intersecting cylinders, its base inscribed with the names of the twelve Black lawyers—11 men and one woman—who established the National Bar Association in Des Moines in 1925.
“The monumental journey is to become truly modern,” Marshall told ARTNews. “It is to escape the dependency on a culture that has dominated you and oppressed you and to arrive at a true independence where you can do what you want, and act in your self-interest without having to ask permission.”
With a shape inspired by African talking drums, the monument represents the importance of communication and how precarious justice and balance are in the American legal system. “The legal system is supposed to be organized to bring justice, but it’s never a simple or straightforward matter,” Kerry James Marshall told artnet News, “It’s always more dynamic and more complicated than it seems to be on its face,”
Facing discrimination from the American Bar Association and other legal organizations, the twelve lawyers who founded the National Bar Association in 1925 did so to “strengthen and elevate the Negro lawyer in his profession and in his relationship to his people.” The idea for a monument honoring the twelve founders originated in 2002, in a conversation between two former National Bar Association presidents: local judge Odell McGee and Evett L. Simmons. In 2006, McGee approached the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation and it took twelve years to make the monument a reality.
“These people were able to achieve something that made a difference in the lives of a lot of people,” Marshall said. “The organization should live on in the memories of people way past our time… The more we remember, the better.”