But this statue of Johnson, a Black transgender woman who devoted much of her life to the movement for LGBTQ rights, wasn’t created with the city’s involvement or approval. A group of enterprising artists and activists just got tired of waiting for the monument and made it themselves.
“We cannot stay idle and wait for the city to build statues for us,” Erlick said in a statement. “We must create representation by and for our own communities.”
The bust was made without the city’s involvement
“Statues of women, people of color, and trans people are often denied behind closed doors,” Erlick said in an email to CNN. “The trans community took matters into our own hands.”
The NYC Parks Department told CNN it doesn’t have the final say in how long the bust will stay up, given the area’s inclusion in a national monument. The National Parks Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The portrait, Pallotta said, is “almost an idealized depiction” of her features, designed to portray her “as an elevated being.”
Johnson advocated for LGBTQ rights for most of her life
“We were just saying, ‘no more police brutality’ and ‘we had enough of police harassment in the Village and other places,'” Johnson said in a 1989 interview.
She was also a staunch activist for AIDS survivors, organizing with ACT UP New York until her death in 1992, when her body was found in the Hudson River.
Johnson’s influence lives on today through organizations like the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, created by transgender advocate Elle Moxley, that serves Black transgender people.
The bust is the latest in a long line of queer art with a statement
The act of creating the bust and installing it without first receiving official permission “takes place within a very vaunted tradition of queer artmaking,” said Jonathan Katz, an associate professor of practice in art history at the University of Pennsylvania.
“The guerrilla movement has long been a part of the DNA of the queer art movement,” he said.
But the bust of Johnson is indicative of a “newly assertive kind of political movement,” Katz said, one that takes matters into its own hands when the city has good intentions but doesn’t act. And the manner in which it was erected is a fitting homage to Johnson, too, he said: She was “all about visibility, about finding community, about pulling people together in ways that were not always, sort of, authorized,” he said.
The bust’s placement “is also a comment on the existing Gay Liberation Monument,” the organizers said in a statement, referencing four statues of two same-sex couples, cast in bronze and painted in stark white, that were installed in the park.
“This bust in that place rearticulates a message of inclusion,” Katz said.
The bust is ‘designed to be temporary’
A plaque on Johnson’s bust remembers her as a lover of poetry, flowers, space and the color purple. It includes, too, a quote from Johnson on the nature of activism and community change.
“History isn’t something you look back at and say it was inevitable,” the plaque reads. “It happens because people make decisions that are sometimes very impulsive and of the moment, but those moments are cumulative realities.”
Erlick and Pallotta told CNN on Friday that they expect the monument to Johnson remain a bit longer, but Pallotta said the work was “only designed to be temporary.” They want to see the city follow through with their initial plans to memorialize Johnson and Rivera, they said.
“My end goal is that the city reinitiates the project to give monuments to Marsha and Sylvia, and that the current Black trans women leaders of NYC are involved in the process, including artist selection and design of a monument,” Pallotta said.
For now, though, the floral bust of Johnson will remain in Christopher Park, looking every bit the regal figure her loved ones considered her to be.
“Anyone who knew Marsha, and I did briefly like so many other people, knew that inclusion, invitation, maternal warmth — these were her defining qualities,” Katz said. “The bust instantiates that.”
CNN’s Christina Maxouris contributed to this report.