For Madison Square Park Conservancy’s public art commissioning program, artist Abigail DeVille will install Light of Freedom, a new work that reflects the despair and exultation of this turbulent period. The project is a twelve-foot high reference to the Statue of Liberty’s torch and to the scaffolding that encased it during construction. DeVille has filled her torch with a well-worn bell, a herald of freedom, and the arms of mannequins. The scaffold, which prevents access symbolically as well as physically, also recalls a work site, an insistent image in the urban landscape. The torch itself refers to the light of democracy and its foundation in ancient systems of government by citizens. Formative to “Light of Freedom” are the words of abolitionist, author and statesman Frederick Douglass, who proclaimed in a 1857 address in Canandaigua, New York: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
“Abigail DeVille is known for using found materials and for uncovering the hidden record of lives lived in urban populations,” said Brooke Kamin Rapaport, deputy director and Martin Friedman chief curator of Madison Square Park Conservancy. “Art in civic space can often react to pressing issues literally and metaphorically. DeVille’s work is uplifting and contemplative in its recognition of the pandemic, protests and the election season.”
The artist, who maintains a studio in the Bronx, uses public space to explore overlooked narratives. In “Light of Freedom,” she will mark significant crossroads in the history of African-Americans in New York. This work recognizes and hallows the area’s earliest enslaved Africans, who were brought to New Amsterdam in 1626, and critiques the promise of democracy represented by the arm and torch of the Statue of Liberty, which were installed in Madison Square Park from 1876 to 1882. Light of Freedom also summons the current Black Lives Matter movement. As the organization that stewards historic Madison Square Park, the Conservancy has worked to address the question of how public art can respond in civic space to this unprecedented time. DeVille’s “Light of Freedom,” the program’s fortieth public art project, will be on view through January 2021.
“We are honored to work with Abigail DeVille on ‘Light of Freedom’ as she realizes this important project in the Park,” added the Conservancy’s Executive Director Keats Myer. “The Park has remained open since the pandemic began here, providing an outdoor location for respite and relief for those who have been isolated. Families, neighbors, communities and workers are all in the Park as are protestors who have used the site to gather.”