Brooklyn skywriting project

Art professor traces history in the New York sky

June 30, 2023


Sandy Williams IV’s skywriting display in New York is a continuation of the art professor’s work to visualize “the sky as a space for dreams, imagination, and the future.”

The skywriting culminated Weeksville Heritage Center’s Juneteenth celebration in the Crown Heights neighborhood of central Brooklyn on June 19.

Williams (they/them) spent many months in New York preparing for the project, where a skywriter in a plane outlined the area of the historically Black Weeksville community’s nearly 500 acres.

“It’s a big weekend event,” said Williams, adding that six cameras captured the skywriting and other celebratory activities.

Black land investors purchased and organized the land that would become Weeksville in the 1830s, after New York abolished slavery in 1827. It was home to one of the largest free Black communities in America before the Civil War. Titled 40 ACRES: Weeksville, the project was commissioned as part of a program called Open Call by The Shed, a New York cultural institution that brings together established and emerging artists to produce the work. 

40 ACRES: Weeksville follows one of Williams’ 2022 projects, 40 ACRES: Chimborazo Park, which included a skywriter tracing the dimensions of a 40-acre plot in the sky above Chimborazo Park in Richmond. It aligned with Williams’ vision of the reparations model of 40 acres and a mule given to, but rarely received, by freed Black Americans in the 1860s after the Civil War.

Williams has also created a 6-foot wax replica of the Lincoln Memorial as a commentary on Washington’s history of Civil War contraband camps, which were refugee camps that housed formerly enslaved and free Blacks. This fall, the piece will appear at Garrison Elementary School in Northwest Washington, which now stands where Camp Barker, a former contraband camp once existed. It will be the third public installation of the 40 Acres Archive: The Wax Monument Series, in which Williams creates wax replicas of popular public monuments and symbols and invites the public to interact and transform them. 

Williams, who uses several foundries to create the wax monuments, notes that people tend to write “very loving messages or the quintessential two romantically linked names carved” in the melted wax.

“Traditionally, monuments are made to sit and collect a patina, as they withstand change, in an attempt to eternalize a particular reality,” Williams said. “I am interested in visualizing change and building monuments able to keep a living record of activity. By melting these wax versions of famous monuments, people are given agency over these forms that are normally untouchable.”