UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 17 Fall 23 Library
Artist and composer Ashon Crawley’s exhibit, “HOMEGOING” is comprised of three sections, “Procession,” “Sanctuary” and “Benediction” that present the visitor with a visual and a musical celebration and a journey of reflection on the lives of queer Black musicians who have lost their lives to AIDS. Photo credit: Kelly Feltault@dayswithSage1.

Reimagining Monuments on the National Mall

Monuments play an important role in defining national identity, and there are no sites more central to the art of monument-making in the United States than Washington, DC’s, National Mall.

Artist and composer Ashon Crawley is an associate professor of religious studies and African-American and African studies with UVA’s College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
(Photo: Benita Mayo, 2021.)

This summer, six artists were invited to participate in a pilot program inviting them to explore new ways of thinking about monuments and to commemorate untold stories of our nation’s history using the National Mall as their canvas. One of those artists, Ashon Crawley, an artist, composer and professor of religious studies and African-American and African studies with UVA’s College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences is using the opportunity to honor queer Black musicians whose lives were cut short by AIDS.

With the Washington Monument and the National Museum of African American History and Culture as its backdrop, Crawley’s exhibit, “HOMEGOING,” is a temporary, mixed-media installation that combines sculpture and music evocative of the Black church experience to create a shrine to the musicians who have been misunderstood and marginalized even within their own communities and families.

“In the Black community, homegoing ceremonies are really important when people die, and the AIDS crisis interrupted our capacity to celebrate the lives of so many of those who were lost,” Crawley said. “When these musicians, choir directors and singers died, their queerness was never spoken of, or it was spoken of in a dismissive way if they were given a homegoing ceremony at all. Oftentimes, they weren’t, and ‘HOMEGOING’ is an attempt to reckon with that past and how that past is still present with us.”

"HOMEGOING” as seen from the observation deck of the Washington Monument.
(Photo: AJ Mitchell Photography.)

“HOMEGOING” is part of the Beyond Granite: Pulling Together exhibition, an initiative the nonprofit organization Monument Lab that builds platforms for civic engagement, historical interpretation and storytelling that reimagines the role monuments play in the nation’s capital and beyond. The exhibition is hosted by the Trust for the National Mall, the National Capital Planning Commission and the National Park Service and is funded by the Mellon Foundation’s Monuments Project. Beyond Granite is free and open to the public through September 18, 2023.

Composed by Crawley and JJJJJerome Ellis, the music of “Procession” features Crawley on the Hammond organ, a prominent instrument in Black churches, and a reading of names of musicians and singers whose lives were lost to AIDS.
(Photo: AJ Mitchell Photography.)
Listen to Procession
Four gospel-style choral compositions, including "Go On Beyond Glory," composed by Crawley for “Sanctuary,” celebrate the lives of those who were lost and create an atmosphere for reflection.
(Photo: Kelly Feltault@dayswithSage1.)
Listen to Sanctuary
The semi-circle of “Benediction” represents a portal, offering closure and a point of departure. Composed by Crawley and JJJJJerome Ellis, the music accompanying the portal represents both a mediation and a prayer.
(Photo: AJ Mitchell Photography.)
Listen to Benediction


HOMEGOING is an original score with six songs, two of which were created with the amazingly talented JJJJJerome Ellis (Procession and Bendiction)!
Read the next story

Tina Fey's Encore at UVA: Reflections and Revelations