Fred Wilson: Mind Forged Manacles/Manacle Forged Minds

Fred Wilson, Mind Forged Manacles/Manacle Forged Minds, 2022. Installation at Columbus Park, Downtown Brooklyn. Images by Kris Graves.

about the project.

On View: June 28, 2022 – June 27, 2023

Columbus Park, Brooklyn, 11201 Google maps link 

Mind Forged Manacles/Manacle Forged Minds is Fred Wilson’s first ever large-scale public sculpture, produced by More Art at the plaza in Columbus Park, Brooklyn. The installation features a 10-foot-tall sculpture, composed of layers of decorative ironwork, fencing and statues of African figures. This project was funded in part through the Downtown Brooklyn + Dumbo Art Fund, under New York State’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI), and is exhibited through NYC Parks’ Art in the Parks program.

The use of ornamental gates and fences serves as a metaphor for security and gated communities, insecurity, the incarceration of Black men, the detainment of immigrants, policing, and William Blake’s concept of “Mind Forg’d Manacles” — self-created barriers to personal and societal growth and freedom, built by fear, division and perceptions of difference. These gates, whether they are to keep others out or keep someone in, act as reflections on the separation of people, both physically and psychologically. 

Mind Forged Manacles/Manacle Forged Minds,while not strictly site-specific, creates, connects and amplifies a conversation about the sculpture and the monuments and buildings around it that currently reside in Columbus Park. The viewer is encouraged to be “site conscious” when looking at the work and its location, as it is positioned between a sculpture of Henry Ward Beecher — a 19th-century Congregationalist clergyman known for his support of the abolition of slavery — and the statue of Columbus, as well as the Kings County Supreme Court building — exploring issues of justice, freedom, slavery and mass incarceration. 

Viewers passing through Columbus Park while encountering the elaborate structure, will perhaps consider questions of perspective: Who is looking in? Who is looking out? Who is free? Who is trapped? Who has the power to decide who has the freedom to be inside and outside? The sculpture will be activated through public programs and is intended to ignite productive dialogue about each individual’s experiences and feelings evoked by the piece. 

Wilson has a longstanding interest in metalworks, blacksmithing and ironworks, particularly in relation to the time he spent in the Caribbean and Africa observing the use of gates as protection. The decorative elements in the different types of gates act in dissonance with the function of gates—creating barriers between people. Wilson is known for his politically charged work of reframing objects and cultural symbols, encouraging viewers to reconsider social and historical narratives and raising critical questions about the politics of erasure and exclusion.

More Art worked with Wilson over the course of several years to develop this project, involving the community and choosing an intentional location for the work. More Art partnered with the Center for Court Innovation, a non-profit working to create a humane justice system, to involve youth (ages 18-24) in creative writing workshops where they were encouraged to think about the issues raised by Wilson’s project. Additional public programs were scheduled throughout the year at the sculpture site and included, performance, dance, music and spoken word poetry. 

related programs. 

Gates, Borders, Barriers was a series of public programs in connection with Mind Forged Manacles/Manacle Forged Minds.

  • June 28, 2022: Opening celebration, with a live performance by Ayumi Ishito and Daniel Carter with remarks from Fred Wilson; Micaela Martegani, Founder & Director of More Art; and our partners.  Click here to watch a live recording of this event.
  • August 28th, 2022: Resistance Revival Chorus and Pennants & Poets. Click here to watch a live recording of this event. 
  • September 20th, 2022: Julian Louis Phillips “if they started the rhythm, how do we keep the beat?” and live instrumental music performance by students at the New School College of Performing Arts. Click here to watch a live recording of this event.  
  • October 12, 2022: unlocking the cages of captivity while sitting on a park bench, a performance and site-specific installation created by performance artist george emilio sanchez and visual artist Patty Ortiz.
    Click here to watch a live recording of this event.
  • May 19, 2023: 2022 Engaging Artists Fellows Yeseul Song and Maya Simone Z. with collaborator Cinthia Chen activated different elements of the work, highlighting invisible barriers, community, and monuments through interactive technology and performance.
  • May 9, 15, 22, 2023: Of Manacles and Monuments: A conversation series inspired by Fred Wilson’s Mind Forged Manacles/Manacle Forged Minds co-presented by More Art and the Brooklyn Public Library’s Center for Brooklyn History. This interdisciplinary discussion and performance series brought together a diverse group of artists, writers, performers, and thinkers to explore the rich poetic background and themes of Wilson’s work, in three acts:

    May 9thAct 1: History, Monuments, and Reframing the Narrative 
    With Nona Faustine, Mabel O. Wilson, Kendal Henry, Michelle Coffey, and Fred Wilson.
    May 15thAct 2: Gates, Barriers, and Confinement
    With Fred Wilson, Pamela Newkirk, and Randall Horton.
    May 22ndAct 3: Our National Healing and the Role of Art
    With Fred Wilson,  Dread Scott, Salamishah Tillet, and Akiba Solomon.

  • June 29, 2023: Closing Celebration with a movement-based performance by Jonathan González with Katrina Reid: Who is looking in? Who is looking out? Who is free? Who is trapped? Who has the power to decide who has the freedom to be inside and outside?

This series was presented in partnership with Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, the Dumbo Business Improvement District, DTBK + Dumbo Art Fund, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature, VIA Art Fund, and Pace Gallery. 

about the artist.

Fred Wilson is a conceptual artist whose work investigates museological, cultural and historical issues, which are largely overlooked or neglected by museums and cultural institutions. Since his groundbreaking exhibition Mining the Museum (1992) at the Maryland Historical Society, Wilson has been the subject of more than 40 solo exhibitions around the globe. His work has been exhibited extensively in museums including the Museum of Modern Art, NY; the Museum of Contemporary Art,  Chicago; the Allen Memorial Museum at Oberlin College, Ohio; the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Institute of  Jamaica, W.I.; the Museum of World Cultures, Sweden; the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College; the British Museum, and the Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne, Australia. His work can be found in several public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, NY, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Long Museum, Shanghai, the Tate Modern in London and National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia. Wilson presented his exhibition Afro Kismet at the 2017 Istanbul Biennial, Turkey, which traveled to London, New York and Los Angeles. Since 2008 Wilson has been a  member of the Board of Trustees at the Whitney Museum of American Art. He represented the U.S. at the Cairo Biennale (1992) and Venice Biennale (2003). His many accolades include the prestigious MacArthur  Foundation’s “Genius” Grant (1999); the Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture (2006) the Ford Foundation’s Art of  Change fellowship (2018) and Brandeis University’s Creative Arts Award (2019). Most recently, Wilson was commissioned, among five other artists, to create two large-scale sculptures for the Delta wing of New York’s LaGuardia airport. Port Authority partnered with Governor Kathy Hochul, Delta Air Lines, and the Queens Museum to commission the six artworks, which will be revealed this spring.


Mind Forged Manacles/Manacle Forged Minds is made possible by a grant from the Downtown Brooklyn + Dumbo Art Fund, a partnership with Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and Dumbo Improvement District as part of New York State’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative, and by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature. This project is supported in part by the Lambent Foundation, the Joseph Robert Foundation, the Abakanowicz Arts and Culture Charitable Foundation, Pace, The David Rockefeller Fund, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and commissioning sponsor VIA Art Fund. Additional support for educational programming has been provided by the Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation. Thank you to our partners, NYC Parks and the Center for Court Innovation.

A special thank you to AJ Iron Work Innovations Corp for their ironwork craftsmanship.