In defiance of travel bans and border walls, one especially multicultural city celebrates Independence Day this year by honoring ideals enshrined on an almost 2,500-year-old relic that many historians call “the first declaration of human rights.”
Sri Lanka–born, London-based architect Cecil Balmond’s Freedom Sculpture is crafted in stainless steel and positioned along Santa Monica Boulevard, the busy thoroughfare linking Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. Two shiny metallic cylinders interact with each other in an “exchange of strength and vulnerability,” he says. At first glance, the sculpture appears silver yet on closer inspection the inner cylinder’s golden hue reveals itself, or as Balmond calls it, the “freedom within.”
The tubular form evokes the Cyrus Cylinder, the baked clay barrel inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform with accolades for the King of Persia who repatriated displaced people, restored places of worship, and supported religious tolerance after the conquest of Babylon in 539 B.C. These messages of diversity and personal freedom especially resonate for the Sri Lankan architect whose homeland was mired in a 26-year-long racially motivated civil war while he racked up high-profile architectural accomplishments, from the Sydney Opera House to Rem Koolhaas’s CCTV Tower in Beijing, and artistic collaborations with renowned talents like Anish Kapoor and Toyo Ito.
When Los Angeles non-profit Farhang Foundation set about in 2014 to create an urban sculptural landmark to honor Cyrus the Great, ruler of the Persian Empire 2,600 years ago, who could have foreseen the prescience of that message this week?