The Obama Shrine began in 2008 with just a stone with ‘Obama’ painted on it.
It has now become a community talking point with a large array of colorful dolls, signs and slogans.
The shrine belongs to Jacqui Bowman, a former consulting scholar for the Penn Museum who earned a certificate of executive administration from the University. The shrine is Bowman’s front porch on 43rd Street near Baltimore Avenue.
Bowman herself is not a United States citizen and cannot vote. With the project, she said, “If I can get someone to vote who may not have voted otherwise, that’s like having a chance to vote.”
Bowman and her teenage daughter, Ella Serpell, created the shrine four years ago. She called Obama’s win “an extraordinary moment in American history.”
The house is barely visible from down the street, but closer up, it’s impossible to miss.
More than 30 Barbie, action figures and other dolls, of different sizes and colors, stand on the porch rail holding signs and flags. Other dolls are tied to a large sheet of black mesh that hung from the porch’s ceiling.
A banner bearing the shrine’s Twitter handle — @ObamaShrine — figures prominently among the decorations.
The idea to put the shrine on Twitter, Bowman said, was her daughter’s. “To us, it seemed like a way to give it a permanent record, a new life,” Bowman said.
Currently, @ObamaShrine has 33 followers and has posted more than 150 tweets.
In addition, Bowman compared her shrine to blogging, adding that “my message literally builds up with time.”
Each addition to the shrine pertains to some political issue or event, giving it some currency and relevance.
For example, near the bottom of the shrine, Bowman placed a “binder of women” — an actual binder, filled with magazine clippings of female models, created in response to a comment made by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Some neighbors, like Roxanne Johnson, believe the shrine reflects the character and energy of the neighborhood.
Johnson, who lives across the street, explained that when she first saw the Obama Shrine, she wasn’t sure what to make of it.
“There are a lot of symbologies going on” in the decorations, she said, noting the use of rainbow coloring on the shrine and the pervasive commentary on women’s issues.
Though she had a mixed impression of some of the shrine’s ideology, she explained that only in West Philadelphia “could someone not only put this up, but also not have anyone immediately dismantle it.”
At the Green Line Cafe, less than a block away from the shrine, employee Ted Renner said he was very familiar with the shrine, although “it makes me wonder what their motivation is.”
“I think it’s kind of goofy,” he said. “I’m not sure whether they think it’s going to have a real impact.”
However, after hearing that Bowman is not a U.S. citizen, Renner laughed and said, “Oh, so it’s like her own super PAC!”