Monument Lab and Sonya Clark add Robert Hemmings to America’s Independence story

Monument Lab’s Declaration House, a public art and history exhibition at Independence National Historical Park, explores the site where Thomas Jefferson and Robert Hemmings spent several months in Philadelphia during the summer of 1776. The project poses a central question – What does the Declaration of Independence mean to us today?

By moving Hemmings to the center of this moment in history, the project seeks to illuminate the entangled legacies of freedom and enslavement at the core of our nation’s founding. Declaration House is presented by Monument Lab, and co-curated by Anna Arabindan-Kesson (Visiting Curator; Associate Professor, Princeton University, Paul Farber (Director, Monument Lab), and Yolanda Wisher (Senior Curator, Monument Lab).

Declaration House presents the exclusive premiere of Sonya Clark’s “The Descendants of Monticello,” a public artwork that brings the historic house to life through a monumental montage featuring the blinking eyes of Robert Hemmings’ collateral descendants and others who are related to the over 400 people enslaved at Monticello, including descendants biologically related to Jefferson. Clark worked with Monticello’s Getting Word African American Oral History Project as a close collaborative partner on the project and temporary exterior installation at Independence National Historical Park.

“Through this exhibition, we went looking for Robert Hemmings and found America,” Paul Farber, Director and Co-Founder of Monument Lab, said. “We are grateful to carry out this collaboration between Monument Lab and artist Sonya Clark, Independence National Historical Park, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello, and many other partners who have contributed to this profound and meaningful project.”

Declaration House also includes public programs with creative residents Jeannine A. Cook and Ty “Dancing Wolf” Ellis, and a Welcome Station during summer weekend hours at the historic house where visitors are invited to respond to the project’s central question with hand-drawn responses that will be collected by Monument Lab and shared with Independence National Historical Park to inform future programming and reflection ahead of America’s Semiquincentennial in 2026.

“We appreciate this opportunity to work with Monument Lab and the artist Sonya Clark to expand the story of the Declaration House to include Robert Hemmings. His presence here in Philadelphia in 1776, and in the very rooms where Jefferson created the Declaration of Independence, is emblematic of the paradox of freedom and slavery in our nation’s founding,” Superintendent Steven Sims of Independence National Historic Park said.

The exhibition opened on June 24, 2024, and runs through September 8, 2024, at Independence National Historical Park (700 Market Street).

Monticello Site Visit and Portrait Sessions with Sonya Clark and Getting Word, Declaration House, Charlottesville, VA, 2024.
Monticello Site Visit and Portrait Sessions with Sonya Clark and Getting Word, Declaration House, Charlottesville, VA, 2024. (AJ Mitchell/Monument Lab).

About Monument Lab

Monument Lab is a nonprofit public art, history, and design studio that is a leading voice in how monuments live with us in public spaces. As a team of artists, curators, and researchers, Monument Lab critically engages our inherited symbols in order to unearth the next generation of monuments that elevate stories and systems of belonging.

Monument Lab has been recognized for producing groundbreaking public art exhibitions, participatory research initiatives, media projects, civic and municipal partnerships, and site-specific commissions and workshops.

Monument Lab works with artists, students, educators, activists, municipal agencies, and cultural institutions on participatory approaches to public engagement and collective memory. Monument Lab is based in Philadelphia, with team members and collaborators located across the United States, its territories, and beyond.

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