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Art & Culture

Afrofuturist Temple: Lauren Halsey’s Monument Celebrates Black Urban Life at the Met’s Roof Garden

  • Craig Miller
  • |
  • April 22, 2023
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  • 5 minute read
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Afrofuturist Temple: Lauren Halsey’s Monument Celebrates Black Urban Life at the Met’s Roof Garden
Key Takeaways
  • Lauren Halsey's Afrofuturist temple on the rooftop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art pays homage to the rich tapestry of Black American life through the ages, drawing inspiration from ancient Egyptian forms and contemporary themes.
  • The installation captures the essence of contemporary Black urban existence, with over 700 engraved and sculpted panels referencing Black-owned businesses, grassroots civic organizations, protest statements, and uplifting messages.
  • The installation will be dismantled, shipped, and reconstructed in South Central Los Angeles to become a community center, civic monument, collaborative work of art, and historical record for a neighborhood experiencing the devastating effects of disenfranchisement and gentrification.
  • The Met Roof Garden Commission is an important step toward increasing representation and inclusivity in the art world, giving voice to marginalized communities and providing platforms for their artistic expression.
  • Halsey's masterpiece will continue to inspire and engage the local community, fostering a sense of belonging and providing a space for collaborative artistic expression and historical preservation. It serves as a testament to the transformative potential of creativity and collaboration.

 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City now houses an extraordinary monument on its rooftop, one that pays homage to the rich tapestry of Black American life through the ages. 

Conceived by California-based artist Lauren Halsey, this architectural marvel is an ode to ancient Egyptian forms and infuses elements of Pharaonic funk and empyreal jazz.

The 22-foot-high cube stands as an open sanctuary, offering breathtaking views of Central Park and the city.

Drawing Inspiration from the Past and Present

Lauren Halsey’s work draws inspiration from the museum’s Temple of Dendur, with notable elements like four sculptural sphinxes and freestanding columns.

The walls of this modern-day temple are adorned with low-relief words and images, reflecting contemporary and personal themes.

Each sphinx features a portrait of one of Halsey’s family members, and the columns showcase likenesses of her artist friends from South Central Los Angeles.

While the ancient Egyptians inscribed the walls of their tombs and shrines with illustrations from the Book of the Dead, Halsey and her team of artists have created an immersive Book of Everyday Life.

This vast work of art captures the essence of contemporary Black urban existence, with words and images etched into hundreds of concrete panels.

Preserving Black Popular Culture

Lauren Halsey, 35, has always been passionate about collecting and preserving traces of Black popular culture.

After studying architecture at a community college, she honed her information-gathering skills by creating detailed digital collages.

Her art has since evolved, moving from two-dimensional collages to three-dimensional installations, such as her Crenshaw District Hieroglyph Project (Prototype Architecture) exhibited at the Hammer Museum’s 2018 biennial exhibition, “Made in L.A.”

The Hieroglyph Project underscored Halsey’s intent to create an accessible and interactive community resource where anyone could contribute to a collective history by inscribing their own experiences.

Following the project’s success and a temporary hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Halsey has continued her community-centric efforts with her latest work at the Met.

A Celebration of Community and Afrofuturism

The Met Roof Garden installation, titled “the eastside of south central los angeles hieroglyph prototype architecture (I),” comprises over 700 engraved and sculpted panels, referencing Black-owned businesses, grassroots civic organizations, protest statements, and uplifting messages.

Halsey’s art also prominently features elements of Afrofuturism, incorporating symbols of the liberatory, Black-positive movement like flying saucers, floating pyramids, and superhero figures.

The installation showcases various pieces from the Met’s collection that Halsey discovered during her research in New York over the past two years.

Among them are Old Kingdom busts, tomb frescoes, and a map of Seneca Village, a predominantly Black settlement that once stood where Central Park is today.

A New York Piece with a South Central Destination

After its exhibition at the Met concludes in October, the installation will be dismantled, shipped, and reconstructed in South Central Los Angeles.

The plan is to transform the piece into a community center, civic monument, collaborative work of art, and historical record for a neighborhood experiencing the devastating effects of disenfranchisement and gentrification.

Lauren Halsey’s Met Roof Garden Commission, the result of a collaboration with Sheena Wagstaff and Abraham Thomas, is as much a New York piece as it is a tribute to the vibrant and ever-evolving Black and Brown neighborhoods across the nation.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City now houses an extraordinary monument on its rooftop, one that pays homage to the rich tapestry of Black American life through the ages. 

The Met Roof Garden Commission: A Bridge Between Cultures and Communities

Lauren Halsey’s Met Roof Garden Commission is more than just an art installation; it is a powerful symbol of unity, an artistic bridge between cultures and communities.

By collaborating with Sheena Wagstaff, the Met’s Leonard A. Lauder Chairman of Modern and Contemporary Art, and Abraham Thomas, a respected curator, Halsey has crafted a tribute to the resilience and vitality of Black and Brown neighborhoods across the nation, while also spotlighting the undeniable influence of New York City.

Expanding Representation in the Art World

The Met Roof Garden Commission is an important step toward increasing representation and inclusivity in the art world.

It allows an artist like Halsey, who hails from South Central Los Angeles, to showcase her work on a grand stage and introduce a wider audience to the rich cultural heritage of Black urban life. 

The collaboration with Wagstaff and Thomas, both of whom are committed to diversifying the museum’s collection and programming, speaks to the importance of giving voice to marginalized communities and providing platforms for their artistic expression.

A Vision of a More Inclusive Future

As visitors explore Halsey’s Afrofuturist temple and marvel at its intricate panels, they are invited to consider a more inclusive and equitable future.

The installation’s Afrofuturist themes urge viewers to imagine a world where the Black community is celebrated, empowered, and united, transcending systemic oppression and thriving in a harmonious existence.

Engaging the Community Beyond the Met

While the Met Roof Garden installation will be on display until October, its impact will not end there.

The work will be transported to South Central Los Angeles, where it will be repurposed as a community center and civic monument.

In its new home, Halsey’s masterpiece will continue to inspire and engage the local community, fostering a sense of belonging and providing a space for collaborative artistic expression and historical preservation.

Lauren Halsey’s Met Roof Garden Commission is a shining example of the power of art to transcend boundaries and unite people from all walks of life.

By celebrating the vibrant heritage and potential of Black and Brown neighborhoods, this installation serves as a testament to the transformative potential of creativity and collaboration.

Craig Miller

Craig Miller

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