2020 Waterfront Public Art: Wrought, Knit, Labors, Legacies

Art Installation by Olalekan Jeyifous
New Temporary Location: 1609 Cameron Street, Alexandria, VA

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The second of the City of Alexandria’s Site See: New Views in Old Town annual public art series, Olalekan Jeyifous’ Wrought, Knit, Labors, Legacies, has been relocated from Waterfront Park to 1609 Cameron Street to remain on display while on temporary loan from the artist. The installation frames Alexandria’s African American history through the lens of the city’s industrial and merchant history from the 17th to 20th centuries. Once a prosperous port city and manufacturing hub home to one of the largest domestic slave trading firms in the country, Alexandria’s early economy was inextricably tied to the work of enslaved and free African Americans.

See how Wrought, Knit, Labors, Legacies stitches Alexandria’s story together, featuring symbols that represent Alexandria’s merchant and manufacturing history, including factories, tobacco warehouses and railways. The ground mural at the waterfront location incorporated African American quilting and textile traditions, which are historically tied to storytelling and oral tradition. When viewed as a whole, the pattern became an abstract grid or map, with the manufacturing icons appearing throughout. From the ground rise four ornate metal figures wrapped in illuminated sculptural seating.

Waterfront Public Art Series

Learn about the newest installation in the series and link to past installations.

About the Title

“Wrought” means shaped, hammered or manufactured, a reference to the sculptures in the installation. It holds dual meaning, also signifying transformation through adversity, struggle or hardship.

“Knit” means to weave, stitch or unite, a reference to the ground mural that is inspired by African-American narrative quilts. For this installation, it also alludes to the histories and futures of Alexandria’s communities, inextricably intertwined.

“Labors” and “Legacies” employ multiple meanings from enslaved labor to industrial labor to the general work it takes for communities to evolve and grow. They also speak to the cultural inheritances that shape and define the city as it continues to evolve.

Meet the Artist

Get to know Olalekan Jeyifous, the Brooklyn-based artist behind Wrought, Knit, Labors, Legacies.

His Story

I was born in Nigeria and raised in the U.S. My mother’s side is from the D.C. area. In my formative years, we moved to many different states. Adapting to new places, I often lost myself in worlds of my own making.

Finding Inspiration

My background is in architecture. I’m driven to explore culture, fictions, histories and futures of cities and spaces in whimsical and insightful ways.

Notable Works

I created a 50-foot-tall installation at Coachella 2017, and I’m designing a monument to Congresswoman Shirley Chisolm in Brooklyn with Amanda Williams.

Designed for Alexandria

I seek to capture Alexandria’s cultural, architectural and merchant history. Alexandria was one of the largest domestic slave-trading ports in the country. My playful, engaging and sometimes uneasy reflection on the triumphant and tragic aspects of history are a means for moving forward toward a more equitable tomorrow.

Study the Symbols

In addition to the icons embellishing the ornate metal figures, Wrought, Knit, Labors, Legacies featured symbols in a vibrant ground mural during its stint at Waterfront Park. See how these symbols serve as a key legend to the installation, identifying elements of the city’s industrial and merchant history in dialogue with its past as home to a major domestic slave market and a substantial free Black community.

Tobacco

A large percentage of Alexandria’s commerce revolved around trade with new England, including preserved meat, grains, forest products and tobacco. African Americans worked the docks to load and unload hogshead barrels of tobacco.

Flour

Alexandria was a major export center for flour, wheat and hemp. In the early 1800s, Alexandria shipped 600,000 barrels of flour and 200,000 bushels of wheat. The major markets were the West Indies, Portugal and Spain.

Fishing

Alexandria was among the 10 busiest ports in America by the end of the 1700s. Starting in the 1850s, “Fishtown” sprang up every year by the wharves as a free Black neighborhood. Seasonal buildings were erected and dismantled to support the industry. African Americans worked as hands on the dock or cleaning the shad and herring.

Compass

An essential tool for ship navigation and surveying, the Compass Rose connects to the North Star and points beyond. It relates to ideas of freedom, destiny and movement.

Railway

Alexandria was a major logistical center for the Union during the Civil War. The U.S. Military Railroad employed thousands of the formerly enslaved who fled Virginia’s Tidewater and Piedmont regions for freedom behind Union lines.

Ice Tongs

Enslaved and free Black Alexandrians used this essential tool to carry ice. Tongs were used in various sectors, from shipping and markets to local produce and Fishtown. Ice also reflects ideas of preservation.

Brick & Trowel

Labor-intensive brick making was important to Alexandria, a city that still makes wide use of bricks for building. The material has become intrinsic to Alexandria. Bricks also reflect labors, home, building and community.

Church Window

This church window is modeled from those in historic Shiloh Baptist Church on Duke Street. It reflects the importance and role of the church in the Black community as a source of refuge and resistance during various movements in history.

In The News

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