Mind Forged Manacles / Manacle Forged Minds

Public Art

Mind Forged Manacles / Manacle Forged Minds

Mind Forged Manacles/Manacle Forged Minds, was Fred Wilson's first public monumental sculpture composed of layers of decorative ironwork, fencing and statues of African figures, serving as a metaphor for both structural and psychological barriers to freedom.
Fred Wilson

June 28, 2022 – June 28, 2023


Columbus Park, Downtown Brooklyn

Mind Forged Manacles / Manacle Forged Minds, by Fred Wilson at Columbus Park Brooklyn. Photo by Kris Graves.
  • Project description
  • About the artist
The Henry Ward Beecher monument in Downtown Brooklyn, as seen through the ironwork in Fred Wilson’s sculpture. Photo by Jakob Dahlin.

Mind Forged Manacles/Manacle Forged Minds, was Fred Wilson’s first ever large-scale public sculpture, installed at the plaza in Columbus Park, Brooklyn for one year, from June 2022 through June 2023. The installation featured 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 was exhibited through NYC Parks’ Art in the Parks program.

The use of ornamental gates and fences served 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, acted as reflections on the separation of people, both physically and psychologically.

Mind Forged Manacles/Manacle Forged Minds, while not strictly site-specific, created, connected and amplified a conversation about the sculpture and the monuments and buildings around it in Columbus Park. The viewer was encouraged to be “site conscious” when looking at the work and its location, as it was 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, were invited to 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 was activated through public programs and 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 acted 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.

View the press release here.

Fred Wilson

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.

  • Education
  • Public Programming
  • Supporters

Center for Justice Innovation & Brooklyn Justice Initiatives

As part of our year-long programming initiative around Mind Forged Manacles, performance artist, writer and social justice activist george emilio sanchez led a series of writing workshops with the Center for Justice Innovation’s Brooklyn Justice Initiatives (BJI). Sanchez engaged with participants in BJI’s alternatives to incarceration program in trust building exercises designed to simultaneously nurture both trust in oneself, as well as within the group of participants. Free-writing prompts addressed issues like mass incarceration in a step-by-step process that gave the participants an opportunity to reflect on such questions as:

Have you ever felt like a target?

Have you ever been a perpetrator?

Have you ever been a bystander?

What does it mean to be an ally?

The workshops provided the participants with opportunities to express their individual voices, while also creating group expressions, and opened up creative process by which they can engage in transforming their own world, and the world around them.

Fred Wilson shares his work with teens at the Center for Brooklyn History. Video still from the online curriculum.

Center for Brooklyn History at the Brooklyn Public Library

Fred Wilson: Mining History to Create Remembrance

More Art worked closely with the Education Department at the Center for Brooklyn History (CBH) to connect Mind Forged Manacles to students, educators, and archivists in New York City and beyond. Wilson visited CBH where he led students from area high schools on a tour of his sculpture and gave an interactive presentation on his work. Using video of Wilson’s talk as central source material, CBH created an online curriculum and resource guide, “Mining History to Create Remembrance” which is aimed at NYC-based middle and high school art students and now lives online as part of CBH’s Brooklyn Resists curriculum project. 

The series shares stories of how Black Brooklynites have resisted racism and oppression and persisted. The curriculum uses interviews with scholars and visual artists, Nona Faustine (artist and author of “White Shoes”) along with primary sources and contemporary photographs to document Brooklyn’s untold Black history. By expanding the conversation around Wilson’s Manacles, students are invited to use the work as a platform for conversations about race, ethnicity, and culture rooted in visual arts in the classroom.

The curriculum and video content can be accessed on the Brooklyn Public Library website here.

Throughout the year, More Art invited artists to produce on-site performances responding to the topic of gates, borders, and barriers from different angles, exploring the many ways they confine us and even define us. For Jenny Polak and the writers from The Fortune Society, it meant mass incarceration; for Resistance Revival Chorus, the entrapment of gender roles and the constraints of a binary system; for Julian Phillips, the legacy of slavery and the enduring repressive effects of policing; for george emilio sanchez, the marginalization and forced erasure of indigenous people; for Maya Simone Z. and Cinthia Chen, the separation inherent in a racialized society; while Yeseul Song sought to transcend this duality through a spacial and spiritual connection. In a powerful finale, Jonathan Gonzales and Katrina Reid led a performance during the de-installation process. The artists and the crew from AJ Iron Works worked together to dismantle the gates, literally and metaphorically, and the moment poignantly signified our collective yearning for the collapse of all barriers that hinder our freedom. The themes were echoed and further investigated in a series of talks co-organized with the Center for Brooklyn History on Gates, Barriers, and Confinement; History & Monuments; and the Role of Art in our National Healing.

June 2022: Opening celebration, with live music performance by Ayumi Ishito and Daniel Carter. Click here to watch a live recording with remarks from Fred Wilson; Micaela Martegani, Founder & Director of More Art; and our partners.

August 2022: A music performance by the Resistance Revival Chorus; Pennants & Poets installation by Jenny Polak with readings by writers from the Fortune Society.
 Click here to watch a live recording of this event.

September 2022:
Julian Louis Phillips “if they started the rhythm, how do we keep the beat?” ; 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 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 2023: Yeseul Song, Tanika Williams, and Maya Simone Z. with collaborator Cinthia Chen activated different elements of the work through interactive technology, performance, and video.

May 2023: Of Manacles and Monuments: A conversation series inspired by Mind Forged Manacles/Manacle Forged Minds co-presented by More Art and the Brooklyn Public Library’s Center for Brooklyn History.

June 2023: Closing Celebration with a movement-based performance by Jonathan González and Katrina Reid alongside the deinstallation of the sculpture by AJ Iron Works.

This series of public programs 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.

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, the Center for Justice Innovation, and the Center for Brooklyn History at the Brooklyn Public Library.

A row of logos including: New York State Downtown Revitalization Initiative, Downtown Brooklyn, Dumbo Improvement District, and the Downtown Brooklyn & Dumbo Art Fund

A grid of logos including: VIA Art, New York State Council on the Arts, NYC Cultural Affairs, Lambent Foundation, Joseph Robert Foundation, Abakanowicz Foundation, The Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation, Pace, NYC Parks, and the Center for Court Innovation


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