Charles Gaines

Notes on Social Justice: Freedman’s Monument

Notes on Social Justice: Freedman’s Monument


Color aquatint and spitbite aquatint on paper

Ed. of 30 + 10 AP

101.6 x 67.3 cm / 40 x 26 1/2 in

128.3 x 95.3 x 5.1 cm / 50 1/2 x 37 1/2 x 2 in (framed)

Published by Hauser & Wirth Editions and printed by Paulson Fontaine Press, the work consists of a musical score accompanied by an excerpt from Frederick Douglass’ 1876 speech given at the unveiling of the Freedman’s Memorial in Washington, D.C. The print is a continuation of Gaines’ ‘Notes on Social Justice’ series, in which the artist translates letters from different texts into musical notes using an intricate system. To produce the melody line, letters A through G are converted to their equivalent notes and the letter H is converted to B, while the remaining letters are translated as silent beats or rests. Chords are then attached to the melody by identifying the first letter in each word that is used in musical notation and converting that note to a major or minor chord. Gaines combines seemingly unrelated rules of language and music using an operationally random system, producing a linkage that is both meaningful and intentional. The system itself is a reflection on the unusual circumstances surrounding the memorial itself.

The American Manifest, Charles Gaines’ first public art exhibition, will unfold in three parts, or chapters, across three locations over the course of two years — Times Square, Governors Island, and Cincinnati. Sited within two key cities whose histories have shaped the identity of America, this project invites the public to consider New York and Cincinnati’s waterways’ in both upholding slavery and securing liberation, a duality that challenges reductive narratives of the history and legacy of slavery in America.

Image: Rendering of Charles Gaines’s Moving Chains, 2022. Courtesy of TOLO Architecture.

About Charles Gaines

Charles Gaines (b. 1944, Charleston SC) lives and works in Los Angeles. He recently retired from the CalArts School of Art, where he was on faculty for over 30 years, and established a fellowship to provide critical scholarship support for Black students in the M.F.A. Art program. Gaines has been the subject of numerous exhibitions in the United States and around the world, most notably a mid-career survey at the Pomona College Museum of Art and the Pitzer College Art Gallery in Claremont CA, as well as a museum survey of his Gridwork at The Studio Museum, Harlem NY, and Hammer Museum, Los Angeles CA.