New Jersey monument honors the contribution of Syrian and Armenian communities

Bryan Zanisnik’s “Silk Monument” in Summit, New Jersey, features archival images to honor the contributions of Syrian and Armenian immigrants who worked in New Jersey silk mills, Hyperallergic reports.

In the early 20th century, at the height of the silk manufacturing boom in the United States, hundreds of Armenian and Syrian weavers migrated to the town of Summit, New Jersey, to work in its mills. When artist Bryan Zanisnik began researching the city for a Summit Public Art commission, he decided to create a monument that would both honor this “forgotten history” and unearth its archives for current residents to appreciate.

“These workers who came from [historical] and Syria really built this town and contributed so much, but very few people know about their histories today,” Zanisnik told Hyperallergic, adding that Summit was second only to the neighboring town of Paterson, America’s “silk city,” in producing the fiber. “This is a monument to these people, to their ancestors, to the grandchildren of these immigrants.”

His “Silk Monument” (2021), consisting of two columns covered in archival images printed on aluminum dibond, has just been unveiled in Summit Village Green Park. One of the sculptures features edited photographs of Summit’s Neighborhood House, a community center that served the immigrant labor force from the silk mills as well as their children and families.

The second column is overlaid with images, texts, and other records that Zanisnik culled from the depths of Summit’s historical archives, online sources, and conversations with locals. On close inspection, each of the photos — portraits of weavers and their relatives, their homes and places of work — is framed in an oval pod imitating the cocoons of silkworms, from which silk threads are unraveled.

The artist’s tribute comes just two months after President Joe Biden officially recognized the Armenian genocide. Zanisnik says Biden’s announcement was on his mind while completing the sculptures. “It was so long overdue,” he said. “It gave my work another layer of meaning.”

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