- by Bryan Zanisnik
Drawn from rare photos and other historical documents, Silk Monument explores the role that Armenian and Syrian immigrants played in the local silk industry and the impact they had on the Summit community.
A hundred years ago, Summit was one of the largest silk manufacturers in the state, second only to Paterson, which was known as “Silk City” and at one point produced nearly half of all the silk manufactured in the U.S. From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, Summit’s silk mills employed hundreds of weavers, most of them immigrants from Syria and Armenia.
Based partly on documents Zanisnik researched at the Summit Historical Society, Silk Monument functions as something of an abstract historical marker to this little-known chapter in Summit history. The resulting installation consists of two tall columns covered with metallic sheets imprinted with a multi-layered photo collage. From a distance, their patterned surfaces appear abstract—rows of oval discs, a black and white grid interspersed with color—but step closer and new details come into focus: old photos of immigrant workers and their families, newspaper headlines, stray objects (looms, fans, and various tools of the trade), some superimposed on images of finely spun silk cocoons, others on photos of a Summit landmark, “The Neighborhood House,” which served as a community center to local immigrant workers and their families from 1904 until 1942 (and today houses the Summit Antiques Center on Morris Avenue). From this complex and varied tapestry, a portrait emerges of a community rich in history and diversity.
A New Jersey native, Bryan Zanisnik grew up in Union County and studied art at Drew University, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and Hunter College in New York. He started making art when he was just a teenager, creating conceptual and often humorous videos that featured his immigrant parents and grandmother reflecting on history and life in New Jersey. Over the years Zanisnik has also made an extensive study of the Meadowlands, photographing the landscape and exploring its history. His other works include a sculptural tribute (of sorts) to New Jersey author Philip Roth and a piece called Monument to Walken, which consisted of 10 busts of actor Christopher Walken’s head that were exhibited in Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, just a few blocks from where Walken grew up. Zanisnik’s work has been widely exhibited in galleries and museums in the U.S., Europe and also in China. He currently divides his time between Brooklyn and the Catskills though he maintains a strong connection to his home state.
Take a Look!
Location: Village Green – North West Quad
Installation Status: Past Installations