Kerry James Marshall to Design Racial Justice-Themed Windows for Washington National Cathedral

The church also called on famed poet Elizabeth Alexander, who was the inaugural poet for President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009, to write a poem that will be inscribed on stone tablets next to Marshall’s new windows. The tablets with the poem of Alexander will be superimposed on the previous ones which venerated the life of Confederate soldiers.

Both projects are expected to be completed by 2023 and permanently installed in the cathedral that year.

In his announcement On Thursday, the National Cathedral said Marshall’s new windows would reflect the church committee’s desire to “capture both darkness and light, both the pain of yesterday and the promise of tomorrow, as well as the silent and exemplary dignity of the struggle of African Americans for justice and equality and the indelible and progressive impact it has had on American society. “

Marshall, a MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient and one of Time’s most influential people, famous for his portraits of black subjects, said Thursday that conceptualizing the project would take time as the windows will tackle complex issues.

“I won’t be able to shed light on what the project will be like because the challenge the committee has set for the replacement windows is a monumental task,” the Chicago-based artist said at a conference. press Thursday at the cathedral, it is the first time that he has set foot in the church to get an idea of ​​the space.

It will be the first time that the acclaimed painter will work with stained glass.

Marshall said his challenge is to create something that draws people into art and can elevate their conceptions of what it means to be an American as well as “what it means to engage in the complex narratives of history with which we all have a relationship. “

The themes “posed a great challenge to me as an artist and as a black American man,” Marshall said in A press release, adding that his goal is “to make truly meaningful additions to an already rich and magnificent institution.”

The Lee and Jackson stained glass windows were installed in 1953 at the request of the United Daughters of Confederation to “promote reconciliation” between North and South.

For decades, the stained glass windows were two of the many bay windows on the main level of the cathedral, which had been envisioned by George Washington as a “great church for national purposes” and are used for national prayer services and funerals of senior citizens. Washington officials. .

The call to remove Lee and Jackson’s windows came in 2015 from the then-dean of the cathedral after Charleston, South Carolina, was fired on historic African Methodist Episcopal Church Emanuel.

In 2016, cathedral leaders voted to remove Confederate battle flags from windows, replacing them with plain glass panes.

The windows were removed in 2017 following the White Nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The Right Reverend Randolph Hollerith, the current dean of the cathedral, said Thursday the windows tell an “incomplete story and a one-sided version of the story.”

“They were an obstacle to our mission and an obstacle to worship in this place, and they had no place in a sacred space,” he said.

Robert E. Lee’s window is currently on loan to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture for a year-long exhibit on Jim Crow’s legacy.

The two stained-glass windows will be preserved and stored at the Cathedral.

The projects are funded by private foundations, including the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Hearthland Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

CNN’s William J. Cadigan contributed to this report.

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