Talking Wall on the Indianapolis Cultural Trail

December 2015



Below, you will find information on the process for the African American Art on Indianapolis Cultural Trail project, the selected artist, Bernard Williams, and his artwork, Talking Wall.


  • Artist Proposal

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    From the artist's proposal:
    The collection of symbols is an open-ended conversation about the Aftrican American history of Indianapolis. I'd like to think that elements may be added to this work as it moves towards its final presentation. Even after the sculpture lives for a while, other elements may be added. The sculpture is a conversation, a "talking wall" of sorts.

    Viewers would walk through and interact with a group of large standing graphic shapes, which are attached to steel bases, square tubing, footings, or other steel elements. Multiple shapes are attached to one another to create highly dimensional moments in relation to many flat shapes. Shadows will be cast in multiple directions suggesting a "walk in the shadow" of influential culture and heroic ancestors.

    As an artist I work with a large inventory of images, signs, symbols, and word elements. Outdoor situations offer an exciting moment to enlarge and play with symbols, shapes, and form. I am suggesting a collected group of very large symbols for a dramatic outdoor display.

    Much of my previous work engages American history and gives voice to often neglected or ignored people groups within the complex American story. I have arranged some potential symbols and word elements based on the African American focus of the project. I have used actual African sculptures or masks from traditional cultures in Gabon. One of the large circular symbols has roots in Kenya. These wood-based ancient art forms would be translated into steel. Referencing Indiana's great steel presence, the traditional and ancient art is set into a conversation with current steel labor and technology. Symbolism around music (Black music specifically), architecture, broader culture, and African-American personalities with roots in Indianapolis will intersect at this site."
  • Fabrication and Installation

    In collaboration with the artist, fabrication and installation was coordinated by Smock Fansler.
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  • Symbolism

    "The collection of sympols present in this sculpture is an open-ended conversation about the African-American history of Indianapolis. Elements were added and changed during the process of developing the artwork. The hope is that after the sculpture has become part of the fabric of the city, other elements could be considered for addition as their ultimate importance to the nature of this place is confirmed."  - Bernard Williams

    Large medallion
    This is a symbol that comes from African carving traditions. It abstracts sun, moon, and star element, suggesting the celestial powers that influence all life.


    The biker
    This figure represents Marshall W. "Major" Taylor, the Indianapolis-born cyclist who broke the color barrier in championship bicycle racing.


    The guitar
    The large guitar is a symbol of musical culture and suggests the influence of the many musicians and perfomers with roots in Indianapolis, including the famous jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery. Their efforts are suggested through the many vibrating lines which start at the guitar and are replicated in various parts of the sculpture, forming patterns.


    The mask
    The artsitic traditions of the West African Kota people use similar figures to memorialzie and celebrate ancestors who have passed on.


    The large fist
    The hair combs used by many African-Americans inspired the image of the large fist. It is a symbol of power, pride, and strength. What better imagery can speak of the legendary Madam C.J. Walker, the first African-American female millionaire whose fortune, derived from hair products, was built in Indianapolis? The comb's teeth spread and extend to the ground, forming a long skirt similar to one that Madam Walker might have worn.


    The baseball player

    The symbol next to the batter is a large C, representing the Clowns, a team in the professional Negro American Baseball League that relocated to Indianapolis in 1946. The number 52 represents 1952, the year the team won the Black National Championship. The hammer and anvil symbol, while not associated with baseball, represents the historic presence of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Indianapolis.

    The reader

    The generic student figure suggests the power of reading and education in African-American culture. The name of Mary Cable, and early schoolteacher, school principle, and NAACP leader in Indianapolis, is also associated with the sculpture's site, upon which there used to be a segregated public school named after her. The pattern of triangles supporting the reader is known as "birds in flight," and is seen in many African-American quilts. It is related to inspiration, mind expansion, and reaching new heights.


    The lattice
    This balanced but energetic pattern, seen in several locations in the sculpture, is inspired by traditional West African carvings.


    The soldier
    This character represents the many black soldiers from Indianapolis, particularly those in the 28th Indiana Regiment (Colored), who fought bravely in the Civil War. Next to the solider is a West African adinkra symbol typically associated with the values of change and adaptability.


    The flower

    Throughout the artwork are organic, decorative forms that suggest plant life and growth.


    The North Star

    This is a celestial body of particular significance and influence. Runaway slaves navigating the Underground Railroad would follow the North Star towards the freedom of the northern (non-slave) states.
  • Artist Bio

    Artist bio:Williams
    Williams is a professional studio artist who often leads projects with communities and schools in the Chicago area. He enjoys the process of sharing his art practice with youth and introducing them to ideas within contemporary art. Williams received his BFA from the University of Illinois, and his MFA from Northwestern University. He has taught both sculpture and painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is represented by galleries in Chicago, New York, and Detroit and consistently shows work at all three. Williams has received many awards and residencies including, most recently, A Studio in the Woods, New Orleans, LA in 2011 and Socrates Park Residency, NY, NY in 2009. 
  • Site

    Talking Wall sits near the site of the former Mary Ellen Cable School. Cable (1862-1944) was a respected Indianapolis Public School teacher and principal and served as Indiana's first NAACP president.
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    The original IPS School #4.  Later named to honor Mary Ellen Cable (right).
    The last iteration of IPS School #4, Cable School,
    IUPUI campus and Cultural Trail just prior to the installation of Talking Wall.


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