Of the final phase of the SBP, Clark says, “We will shape the books that shaped us as a collective monument to the work of solidarity.” Members of the wider public are enthusiastically invited to participate with Clark and her Amherst College collaborators by reflecting, reading, and making art about solidarity.
The project was envisioned to commemorate several Amherst College milestones: its Bicentennial, the 50th anniversary of the Black Studies department's formation and the fifth anniversary of Amherst Uprising, a sit-in protest on campus led by Black women in 2015. The Bicentennial also highlights the fact that the College has inhabited Nonotuck land and the ever-present issues of Indigenous rights. As the College heads into its third century, the Solidarity Book Project looks to address historical inequities with this call to solidarity with Black and Indigenous communities.
Clark said, ”When my alma mater approached me to make a commemorative artwork for the Bicentennial, I said, ‘let’s make something together. I’ll gather folks to make a collaborative piece if Amherst will match those actions by funding underserved Black and Indigenous communities. Together, we’ll address the long legacy of settler colonialism and anti-Black racism that plagues this nation.’ Each submission enriches our purpose bit by bit.”
The project’s first call to action, #SolidarityReflection, was launched in November 2020 during Native American Heritage Month. Contributors were asked to share definitions of solidarity or stories about their experiences with solidarity in audio, video or text form. Among them were notable authors, historians, architects and artists such as Shayla Lawson, Nell Painter, Billie Tsien, Henry Drewal, Daniela Riviera and Imani Perry. Perry’s contribution defined solidarity as “mutual aid and fellow feeling…choosing the upper case ‘We’ and the lowercase ‘I’ as an act of love for the ones to whom we will hand over the future.”
The second call to action, #SolidarityReading, invited participants to share a passage from a work that deepened their understanding of solidarity and was launched last month, just as the country’s eyes were turned to the powerful and unifying poetry of National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman at the Presidential inauguration. With words and books as the centerpiece of the SBP, many participants have added reflections and excerpts, which the project will continue to accept through the fall.
In the current third and final call to action, #SolidaritySculpting, the project invites participants to sculpt the iconic raised fist symbol into books, guided by this instructional video. Clark encourages viewers to purchase the books they use for the project from independent, used book and BIPOC-owned establishments.
Clark and her collaborators will be hosting several make-with sessions over the next couple of months for those who are interested in participating in the book sculpting. Please sign up for one of the following dates (all times EST):
- Wednesday, February 24, 6pm - 7 p.m.
- Tuesday, March 16, 11:30am - 12:30 p.m.
- Saturday, April 10, 11:30am - 12:30 p.m.
- Wednesday, April 28, 6pm - 7 p.m.
- Thursday, May 20, 11:30am - 12:30 p.m.
Through June, you can participate by submitting to any or all of the three SBP calls: #SolidarityReading, #SolidarityReflection, #SolidaritySculpting at the Solidarity Book Project website.
Before joining the faculty at Amherst four years ago, Clark was Commonwealth Professor and Distinguished Research Fellow in the School of the Arts at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her work has been exhibited in more than 400 museums and galleries worldwide and has received favorable reviews in The New York Times, Huffington Post, Sculpture, Hyperallergic, Art in America, Artforum, Time, and Mother Jones, among other journals and newspapers. In addition to receiving an honorary doctorate from Amherst College she has received the Rappaport Prize, Jackson Pollock–Lee Krasner Grant, Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, United States Artist Fellowship, and Anonymous Was a Woman Award. Clark has worked alongside creative individuals at many international residencies from Red Gate in China to Bellagio Rockefeller Foundation in Italy to Yaddo in New York to the American Academy in Rome to Black Rock in Senegal.
The SBP is not Clark’s first work to tackle the issues of race, oppression, history and justice. For Black Hair Flag, for example, she stitched black cotton thread through the Confederate battle flag with Black hair styling techniques to make the US flag. For her performance piece Unraveling, she invited viewers to pull a Confederate flag apart thread by thread with her and talk about the experience while doing it. And for Monumental Cloth (sutured) she reproduced the Truce Flag, the small white towel that the Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee used to surrender at the end of the Civil War.
The Solidarity Book Project is managed by Amir Denzel Hall ‘17, while the immersive digital archive of participation is designed by Andrew Smith ’18. SBP is a replicable model that can be implemented across educational institutions, prisons and public libraries, and other places where book knowledge and collaborative art can serve to address injustices perpetrated against marginalized communities.
Amherst College prepares students to use ideas to make a difference in the world. Since its founding, in 1821, in Western Massachusetts, Amherst has demonstrated steadfast confidence in the value of the liberal arts and the importance of critical thinking. Today, its financial aid program is among the most substantial in the nation, and its student body is among the most diverse. Small classes, an open curriculum and a singular focus on undergraduate education ensure that leading scholars engage daily with talented, curious students, equipping them for leadership in an increasingly global and complex world.