A bust of Marsha P. Johnson is mounted near the Stonewall Inn in tribute to the transgender activist
But this statue of Johnson, a black transgender woman who has dedicated much of her life to the LGBTQ rights movement, was not created with the city’s participation or endorsement. A group of enterprising artists and activists got tired of waiting for the monument and built it themselves.
“We cannot stand idly by and wait for the city to build statues for us,” Erlick said in a statement. “We need to create representation by and for our own communities.”
The bust was produced without the participation of the city
“Statues of women, people of color and trans people are often denied behind closed doors,” Erlick said in an email to CNN. “The trans community has taken matters into their own hands.”
The New York Department of Parks told CNN it does not have the final say on how long the bust will remain standing, given the area’s inclusion in a national monument. The National Park Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The portrait, Pallotta said, is “almost an idealized representation” of her features, designed to portray her “as an elevated being.”
Johnson has championed LGBTQ rights for most of his life
“We were just saying ‘no more police brutality’ and ‘we were fed up with the police harassment in the village and other places,” Johnson said in an interview in 1989.
She was also a strong activist for AIDS survivors, organizing with ACT UP New York until her death in 1992 when her body was found in the Hudson River.
Johnson’s influence continues today through organizations like the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, created by transgender lawyer Elle Moxley, which serves black transgender people.
Bust is the latest in a long line of queer art with a statement
The act of creating the bust and installing it without first having received official permission “fits into a much-vaunted tradition of queer artistic creation,” said Jonathan Katz, associate professor of practice in history of the art at the University of Pennsylvania.
“The guerrilla movement has long been part of the DNA of the queer art movement,” he said.
But Johnson’s bust is indicative of a “assertive new kind of political movement,” said Katz, a movement that takes matters into its own hands when the city has good intentions but does not act. And the way it was erected is a fitting tribute to Johnson as well, he said:
The placement of the bust “is also a comment on the existing gay liberation monument,” organizers said in a statement, referring to four statues of two same-sex couples, cast in bronze and painted in pristine white, which have been installed in the park.
“This bust in this location re-articulates a message of inclusion,” Katz said.
The bust is “designed to be temporary”
A plaque on Johnson’s bust remembers her as a lover of poetry, flowers, space and the color purple. It also includes a quote from Johnson on the nature of activism and community change.
“History is not something you look back and say it was inevitable,” the plaque reads. “It happens because people make decisions that are sometimes very impulsive and timing, but those moments are cumulative realities.”
Erlick and Pallotta told CNN on Friday that they expected the monument to Johnson to stay a bit longer, but Pallotta said the work was “designed only to be temporary.” They want to see the city follow through on their initial plans to commemorate Johnson and Rivera, they said.
“My ultimate goal is for the city to relaunch the plan to donate monuments to Marsha and Sylvia, and for current black transgender women in New York to be involved in the process, including the selection of artists and the design of a monument.” , Pallotta said.
For now, however, Johnson’s floral bust will remain in Christopher Park, resembling in every way the royal figure those close to her considered.
“Everyone who knew Marsha, and I briefly loved so many others, knew that inclusion, invitation, motherly warmth – these were her defining qualities,” Katz said. “The bust instantiates this.”
CNN’s Christina Maxouris contributed to this report.