Badir McCleary approaches the large bronze bell, eager to pull its lever and strike the last note of former national anthem contender “My Country, ’Tis of Thee.” Only seconds later, the Los Angeles filmmaker returns, dejected, without a single song credit to his name. “Let Freedom Ring,” Paul Ramírez Jonas’ temporary installation on D.C.’s National Mall, is closed to hopeful ringers everywhere until the following Friday.
“I wanted to ring the freaking bell!” laughs Badir, who’s scheduled to depart D.C. long before the interactive bell tower reopens. Consisting of four Gothic steel beams, a pillar of 32 small bells, and a 600-pound bell inscribed with the installation’s title, “Let Freedom Ring” is one of six projects featured in Pulling Together, an outdoor exhibition commemorating Black opera singer Marian Anderson’s 1939 performance of “My Country” at the Lincoln Memorial, after she was denied access to nearby Constitution Hall.
Watch Remote, Ep. 5: We’re Going to the Mall!
“[Pulling Together] was D.C. opening up to the global part of the public art world,” says Badir, who visits several other pieces in the exhibition for the latest episode of Remote, his ongoing video series on the power of public art. The fifth mini-documentary in the series, “We’re Going to the Mall!” trails Badir across the wide boulevards and grassy swaths of “America’s front lawn,” home of the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. “D.C., for the most part, is small, so the public art really sticks out compared to other places,” says Badir, who admits he’s biased toward the thriving public art scene in his hometown of Philadelphia, where he filmed the second episode of Remote.
While the series’ third episode covers public art in white cube spaces and the fourth brings Badir back to San Antonio, a city he once called home, the first episode of Remote sees the filmmaker toting his camera to Coachella Valley in search of site-specific desert installations hiding in plain sight of his current home base, L.A.
Though many of his projects support or resurrect visual culture in L.A. neighborhoods, Badir is a self-described “heavy traveler” who helps artists transform public spaces worldwide. In 2011, he founded Art Above Reality, an art consulting and curatorial firm that works with beginners and seasoned pros alike. Since then, the longtime filmmaker has built a reputation for breathing life into forgotten pockets of creative culture. His video series Fallen Through the Cracks highlights overlooked Black artists in short, digestible snippets, while his work with Gallery 38 helped reinvigorate the eclectic arts community in the historic L.A. neighborhood of West Adams. Similarly, the Remote series explores the impact of public art on surrounding cities, landscapes, and communities.
Let Freedom Ring on the National Mall
It’s fitting that “Let Freedom Ring”—a replication of Philly’s iconic Liberty Bell—is the first piece of art Badir encounters on the National Mall. “[The Liberty Bell] wasn’t something, as a kid, I was really interested in seeing,” says Badir, who’s “very familiar” with the monument now. “As an adult, you start to understand the history […] it became like, ‘Whoa, why haven’t I seen this?’”
If the National Mall and its impressive collection of monuments don’t pique your interest, D.C. has one final surprise in store for art lovers and curious tourists alike: All the museums are free. “That was so dope to me,” says Badir, who visited D.C. for the first time about a decade ago. “I literally tried to go to every museum. You know, there's only so many you can go to in a day without just literally running through them. [D.C. has] a museum for everything.”
Available to view here only, Remote is an exclusive video series created by Badir McCleary in partnership with NOT REAL ART. Watch the premiere of “We’re Going to the Mall!” on the player above or scroll through to see the image gallery below.
“I wanted to ring the freaking bell!” — Badir McCleary
All photos published with permission of the artist(s).
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