April 3, 2019

Wilson’s Mixed Legacy To Be Embodied In Upcoming Sculpture

“DOUBLE CONSCIOUSNESS”: A new installation capturing both positive and negative aspects of Woodrow Wilson’s legacy will be constructed this summer on the Washington Road side of the plaza of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Walter Hood, the work’s designer, will speak about the value of public art in helping us reflect on our past at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, April 4 at the Friend Center. (Rendering by Hood Design Studio)

By Don Gilpin

Commissioned by Princeton University to create a work of art capturing both the positive and negative sides of Woodrow Wilson’s legacy, acclaimed African American artist Walter Hood recalled when he was a young man leaving for college, “My father said to me, ‘Junior, you’re going to have to be both black and white when you go out there, a double consciousness, navigating the world through the eyes of others.’’’

Double Consciousness, drawn from W.E.B. Du Bois’ Souls of Black Folk, will be the title of Hood’s sculpture that will be installed this summer adjacent to the fountain on the Washington Road side of the plaza of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs (WWS).

Hood will present a free, public lecture about the value of public art in helping us reflect on our past at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, April 4, at the Friend Center, Room 101, co-sponsored by the WWS and the Campus Iconography Committee.

Reflecting on the concept of “two-ness” in a TED Talk last year about public spaces reclaiming the past and embracing the future, Hood continued, “W.E.B. Du Bois said it’s this peculiar sensation that the Negro has to walk around being viewed through the lens of other people — this two-ness, this double consciousness.”

In commenting on the Wilson installation in a Princeton University press release, Hood explained, “This peculiar and burdensome condition that affects African Americans is re-appropriated here as a method and framework for critique, lining up positive and negative aspects of Wilson’s legacy side by side. A progressive to some and a bigot to others, Wilson left a complex legacy this installation aims to capture.”

Double Consciousness will be a 39-foot-high vertical sculpture of two columns, one leaning on the other, with black-and-white stone surfaces bearing quotations that represent both sides of Wilson’s mixed legacy. Two vertical planes face each other at the sculpture’s center, one reflective stainless steel and the other glass with images of Wilson’s critics.

In April 2016 the University’s board of trustees adopted a report and recommendations made by the Wilson Legacy Review Committee on how the University
should recognize Wilson’s legacy, including placement of a permanent “marker” on the WWS plaza.

The trustee committee acknowledged widespread concerns about Wilson’s views on race and noted in its report “particular concern” about “the position he took as Princeton University president to prevent the enrollment of black students and the policies he instituted as U.S. president that resulted in the re-segregation of the federal civil service.”

The committee declined to rename the WWS or the Wilson residential college, but called for “transparency in recognizing Wilson’s failings and shortcomings” and noted “larger concerns about the University’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity.”

Hood, who was selected by a University committee after a competition in which eight different firms presented proposals, has convened focus groups of students, faculty, staff, and alumni as well as members from the Campus iconography Committee over the past two years to inform his thinking about the content and imagery on the Double Consciousness sculpture.

Creative director and founder of Hood Design Studio in Oakland, Calif., Hood is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and was a recipient of the 2017 Academy of Arts and Letters Architecture Award. 

Speaking in his TED Talk about the dangers of trying to narrow things down to one set of identities, Hood stated, “We can allow two things to be unresolved. I want to live in a world where there’s an ambiguity between two things, because that ambiguity allows us to have a conversation. When things are clear and defined, we forget.”