Social Justice Park Sculpture Aims to Promote Unity
New artwork promotes a Downtown park’s social justice message.
In one of the most divided times in the nation’s history, a new sculpture in the Discovery District’s Washington Gladden Social Justice Park advances a notion that is in short supply: unity. The piece, Our Single Garment of Destiny, was unveiled on Jan. 18, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“This is a very important sculpture for us right now,” says the Rev. Tim Ahrens, the senior minister of the First Congregational Church, which opened the park in 2018. “We need to find out how we’re connected, because we all know how we’re disconnected. We need to find out what we have in common.”
In early 2020, before the country’s rifts deepened, the park’s board launched a national search for artists to create a centerpiece for the small public space, adjacent to the church on Broad Street. The park is dedicated to the theme of social justice in honor of one of the church’s early leaders, the Rev. Washington Gladden, a leading advocate of the Social Gospel movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Julian and Adriana Voss-Andreae, a husband-and-wife team from Portland, Oregon, were selected to create the sculpture. The 5,500-pound metal piece is composed of thin, vertical plates that represent six people. When viewed from a particular angle, the figures all but disappear. While designing and constructing it, the couple drew on their involvement in environmental and social justice activism, Adriana says. “What we’re seeing is these existential crises that are deeply connected.”
Julian says the artwork’s concept was also inspired by a famous passage in King’s 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail”: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
“The quote became the crystallization point for the idea for the sculpture,” he says, “the idea that we are ultimately aligned—one.”