Talking Wall by Bernard Williams

TITLE: Talking Wall, 2015
ARTIST: Bernard Williams
DATE: 2015
MATERIALS: steel, paint
DIMENSIONS: 144 x 244 x 79 inches
TYPE: sculpture

The phrase, “if walls could talk,” often refers to secrets to be told. In the case of Bernard Williams’ Talking Wall (2015), this idiom is inverted. The wall is telling us a story of Indianapolis’ past.

Stand before the work and you stand—literally and figuratively—within the outlines of Indianapolis’ great African-American history. The patterns you see are derived from African decorative carving and textiles, as well as from African-American quilt making. Nationally recognized figures such as entrepreneur and activist, Madame C.J. Walker (1867-1919); track and cycling champion, Marshall “Major” Taylor (1878-1932); jazz guitartist, Wes Montgomery (1923-1968); are all here. Shining over them is the North Star, that great symbol of hope, freedom, and dignity that guided so many away from the terrors of slavery.

The site of the work is itself significant. Once the location of IPS School 4, one of the original ward public schools, it welcomed both black and white students until 1922 when it was designated for African-American children only. In 1953, a new IPS School 4 building—also segregated—was constructed just north of the original and named in honor of Mary Ellen Cable (1862-1944), an African-American woman who was renowned as a School 4 teacher and principal and as a civic leader. Cable founded the Indianapolis branch of the NAACP and served as the first president of both its Indianapolis and Indiana chapters.

In a world where walls do the work of silencing, Talking Wall gives voice to the hidden histories of Indianapolis in the hope that someone like yourself is ready and open to listen.

The Central Indiana Community Foundation and the Indianapolis Cultural Trail: A Legacy of Gene & Marilyn Glick provided the funds for this sculpture. To see more art celebrating Indianapolis’ African American history, check out John Spaulding’s Jammin’ on the Avenue and (Untitled) Jazz Musicians on Indiana Avenue.

To learn more about this artwork, visit http://www.indyartsguide.org/public-art/talking-wall/, which includes information created by Herron School of Art and Design and IUPUI Museum Studies faculty and students in 2009 as part of “A Survey of IUPUI Public Art.”