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  • Writer's pictureLucas Nava

HMAAC CEO Guess: "The time has come to broaden ownership and control of this symbol of hatred"

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The Houston Museum of African American Culture auctioned an NFT (non-fungible token) of the "Spirit of the Confederacy" monument during an evening event Aug. 5.

The NFT, like others in the museum's collection, was designed by Paris-based artist and designer Rodhir Daile. The collection includes NFTs of famous African American figures such as Rosa Parks, Mosiah Garvey, Nipsey Hussle and Muhammad Ali.

“Historical narrative has always been driven by the few people with access to power holding ownership of the commemorative landscape,” HMAAC CEO John Guess Jr. said through an HMAAC news release. “We feel this next step, allowing people of color to share through ownership of an NFT control over this commemorative symbol of hate, is an important one at this time of racial unrest and suppression.

“The time has come to broaden ownership and control of this symbol of hatred,” Guess continued. “As the only African American cultural asset to own a Confederate monument, how we broaden and reconstitute the narrative around it to take power from its symbolism is important.”

The HMAAC received national attention and controversy in 2020 following its acquisition of "The Spirit", making it the first African American asset to own a Confederate monument. Many historians and onlookers described the statue as haunting, one that explicitly describes the Confederacy as something justified and approved of by God.

In the anticipation of "The Spirit's" acquisition, the HMAAC hosted a one-day symposium called "Lest We Forget: A National Conversation with the Confederacy" in 2019. The museum publication, "Houston Joins the National Confederate Monuments Discussion," documented the symposium's results, and has been received by organizations such as the Mellon Foundation and LAXART. These organizations will sponsor a national exhibition in Los Angeles next year, which is set to include "The Spirit".

Two years later, in 2021, art historian Erin Thompson discussed the HMAAC's acquisition in her book "Smashing Statues: The Rise and Fall of America's Public Monuments".

“Standing in front of a legislature that ignores minority issues or a courthouse that disproportionately punishes people of color, monuments boast that white people control America," she wrote. "The Houston Museum of African American Culture disproves its monument’s core claim simply by owning and controlling it.”

The HMAAC was named one of the three best museums in Houston by the Houston Chronicle, as well as the Museum of Natural Science and the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, described as a community-focused brand that immerses its visitors in history and culture.

"The mission of HMAAC is to collect, conserve, explore, interpret and exhibit the material and intellectual culture of Africans and African Americans in Houston, the state of Texas, the Southwest and the African diaspora for current and future generations," the organization says on its website. "In fulfilling its mission, HMAAC seeks to invite and engage visitors of every race and background and to inspire children of all ages through discovery-driven learning. HMAAC is to be a museum for all people."

Those interested in the "Spirit of the Confederacy" NFT can visit the HMAAC's website for more information.

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