Abigail DeVille “Light of Freedom”
October 27, 2020 – January 31, 2021
Abigail DeVille, Light of Freedom, 2020
Photo: Andy Romer Photography
“Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.”
Frederick Douglass (American, 1818 -1895)
Statesman, author, orator, abolitionist leader
“West India Emancipation” speech
Canandaigua, New York
August 4, 1857
Light of Freedom
In response to history and the present, Abigail DeVille’s Light of Freedom reflects the despair and the exultation of a turbulent period of pandemic and protest. The project is a newly commissioned outdoor sculpture. Madison Square Park Conservancy, as the organization that stewards this historic park, has worked to address the question of how public art can respond in civic space to this critical time. DeVille’s answer, Light of Freedom, the program’s fortieth public art project, will be on view through January 31, 2021.
Light of Freedom carries many cogent symbols. DeVille has filled a torch — referring to the Statue of Liberty’s hand holding a torch which was on view in Madison Square Park from 1876 to 1882 — with a timeworn bell, a herald of freedom, and with the arms of mannequins, beseeching viewers. The scaffold, which prevents access physically and metaphorically, recalls a work site, an insistent image on the urban landscape. But the scaffold is golden, summoning the glory of labor and the luminosity in the struggle that can lead to change. Formative to Light of Freedom are the words of the abolitionist, author, and statesman Frederick Douglass, who proclaimed in an 1857 speech delivered in Canandaigua, New York: “If there is no struggle there is no progress.” The torch refers to the light of democracy and its foundation in ancient systems of government by citizens.
DeVille has described working on this piece: “In my research, I have found that the first Blacks to be brought to New York City were eleven Angolans in 1626. That makes people of African descent the second-oldest group of settlers in New Amsterdam, after the Dutch. Unfortunately, history has erased the contributions and victories of this group. I want to make something that could honor their lives and question what it means to be a New Yorker, past, present, and future.”
The artist, who maintains a studio in the Bronx, uses public space to explore overlooked narratives; she mines untold histories for her subject matter. In this project, DeVille conjoins significant crossroads in African-American history in New York to create a sculpture that is inspiring and introspective. She recognizes and hallows the earliest enslaved Africans who were brought to New Amsterdam, critiques the unfulfilled promise of American liberty and justice for all, and summons the current Black Lives Matter movement as a source for the work.
All Photos: Andy Romer Photography
Opening remarks from the Artist
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Leadership support for Light of Freedom is made possible by the Ford Foundation.
Major support is provided by Candy and Michael Barasch, Suzanne Deal Booth, Ed Bradley Family Foundation, Harold and Colene Brown Family Foundation, The Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family, Stardust Arts, and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
Additional support is provided by Eve Biddle, Ingrid Cincala-Gilbert, Shawna C. Gallancy, Stephanie Joyce and Jim Vos, Rebecca Kramer, Charles Moffett, Catherine E. Sippin, Sarah Stein-Sapir, and Anonymous.
Major support for Mad. Sq. Art is provided by Sasha C. Bass, Bunny & Charles Burson, Toby Devan Lewis, Ronald A. Pizzuti, Thornton Tomasetti, Tiffany & Co., Anonymous, and by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council. Substantial support is provided by Charina Endowment Fund, Eataly, Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, The Jacques & Natasha Gelman Foundation, The Sol Lewitt Fund for Artist Work, Mad. Sq. Art Council, Audrey & Danny Meyer, The New York EDITION, the Rudin Family, and Sorgente Group of America. Additional support is provided by 400 Park Avenue South, Irving Harris Foundation, Lenore G. Tawney Foundation, and Fern and Lenard Tessler.
Madison Square Park Conservancy is a public/private partnership with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation.
Thank you to Materials for the Arts.
Following the exhibition in Madison Square Park, Light of Freedom will be on view at the Momentary, a satellite contemporary art space of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.
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