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Public Art and Communities’ Needs


Art is a visual expression of creative skills or imagination that viewers appreciate for its beauty. People also appreciate art, such as sculptures, paintings, murals, architectural art, or drawings, for their emotional power or aesthetics (Alle, 2012). Public art is a form of art displayed in physical public domains. The public nature of the art means that anyone can access it freely. According to Alle (2012), public art with a greater sense of identity creates memorable experiences. For instance, ‘the Death of Cleopatra’ by Edmonia Lewis fulfils the definition of art. Edmonia Lewis creates a sculpture with expressive and emotional power.

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The over-size representation of the ancient Egyptian queen depicts the memorable moment when Cleopatra let a poisonous asp bite her (Gold, 2012). The Queen chose death over humiliation in the hands of the Roman conquerors. The sculpture of Cleopatra is an art by Edmonia Lewis, an artist among the first professional African-American female sculptors. She learnt her style, of sculpturing Greco-Roman art from various renowned sculptures. She is well known not only in her motherland, but also abroad. Her artistic career serves as an example of how to overcome obstacles on the way to success and respect.

How the art serves the needs of the community

Public art heightens the awareness of a viewer, whatever the meaning it tries to instill. ‘The Death of Cleopatra’ is a good public art, because it meets the subject, style, and medium associated with public art. The art is a representation of nineteenth century Victorian standards that shaped the view of public art in history (Gold, 2012). In relation to identity, the art meets the criteria through its display of the historical circumstances surrounding the end of the reconstruction era. The centurial context of Edmonia’s sculpture illuminates on the national ideologies and creoles of the nineteenth century. The art also reflects the ideas of the period, by conveying an undeniable majesty in the life and death of the queen (Gold, 2012). The pastiche with Greco-Roman details is an ambitious undertaking of an illustrious public art. Edmonia’s sculpture definitely meets the definition of public art.

How the public art is practical and challenging

Public art engages the community beyond permanence to serve its present needs (Fleming, 2007). Depicting the art as part of a community brings it to life. Artists and viewers appreciate Edmonia’s work for its direct attention in its own space. The art is imbued with deeper meaning that gives viewers new cultural knowledge. Fleming (2007) asserts that relating the art to the culture of the people gives a meaning that enhances the underlying identity of individuals. The sculpture depicts a sense of space that has evolved over time and reflects the social values that the community holds. The community character of the centurial era is a narrative of the Greco-Roman emperor. This narrative is further expressed by its historic and cultural context. Hume’s (1757) work supports that public art should create a harmony between the culture of the community at the present and before.

Harmonizing space and the subject

The death of Cleopatra balances conflicts between values and cultures of the past and future communities. The vision of the sculpture embraces the evolving culture of Egypt. The art challenges the local identity through its uniqueness, and requires a reflection upon the communal character represented in the art (Flemming & Goldman, 2005). How the art helps the community understand its historic and cultural context adds value to the development of a sense of place. Edmonia makes an art that serves the viewer’s cultural and historical needs. The public art expresses social ideals that symbolize a communal identity, which transforms individual relationships with the society. The art presents the cultural fascination of European and American countries with ancient Egypt.


The relation between the content and audience defines the ability of the art to respond to a place where a community resides. The art may be created to reflect the ideas of the period in which it was created. In the current study, the culture around the sculpture is intrinsically aesthetic as the art has closer ties with the community. Visitors to the site get the opportunity to interact with the culture and history of the community. Edmonia mixes the twist of fate with a curatorial concern that brings out an art that embodies beautiful expressions. The subject fulfills the definitions of art, making it a good public art. The space and subject harmoniously reflect the historic and cultural needs of the society. The representation makes the art practical and challenging.


Alle, E. (2012). Spatial, Temporal, and Social Dimensions of the Landscape Influenced By Contemporary Art. Science-Future of Lithuania, 4(2), 176-18.

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Fleming, R. (2007). The Art of Placemaking: Interpreting community through public art and urban design. London: Merrell.

Flemming R. L., & Goldman, M T. (2005). Public art for the public. Public Interest, 159, 55-78.

Gold, S, W. (2012). The Death of Cleopatra / the Birth of Freedom: Edmonia Lewis at the New World’s Fair. Web.

Hume, D. (1757). Of the Standard of Taste. Web.

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