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“I have always been drawn to public art,” he said, “and the question of how a city or a nation, how a government sanctions a monument and of how that validates a specific perspective.” Monuments offer “the official perspective,” he added, “but the official perspective is always changing and it can often be changed by …
artists.” So if not Rizzo, then what did inspire and Market Streets.
“My mother’s father was a Philly cop, and so were two of his brothers,” said Thomas.
“My grandfather actually was at the police academy with Rizzo.” Thomas got a taste of both sides of the Black Power movement.
“The phrase ‘power to all the people’ actually was a mantra of the Black Panther movement,” said Thomas, who said he decries the idea that the movement was racist or antiwhite.
So now when you visit the plaza you’ll not only see Rizzo’s smiling face and outstretched arm, but also will see him twinned with a symbol of black culture and of the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s, the period during which Rizzo had his tenure as police commissioner (1968 to 1971) and mayor (1972 to 1980).
, Thomas’ statue is the opening salvo of Mural Arts’ inaugural Monument Lab, a provocative celebration of monuments and public art that will feature installations by 20 artists across the city.
He said the Rizzo controversy was nowhere in his mind as he worked on the piece.
“The curators asked me to consider Philadelphia and its history, its people, and its neighborhoods and ask myself how I would commemorate the city in a monument,” said Thomas, who is the son of two noted Philadelphia natives, photographer and New York University scholar Deborah Willis and jazz musician and film producer Henry “Hank” Thomas Sr. Thomas and Golden did not originally envision the Afro pick as a companion to the Rizzo statue.