Abigail DeVille Listens to History | Art21 "New York Close Up"


How does an artist express both the joy and pain in harrowing histories?

Through her immersive performances and installation works, Abigail DeVille celebrates the bravery and optimism—while also memorializing the suffering—embedded within the African American experience. Calling out official American history as "garbage," Deville uses discarded materials herself, like old furniture and tattered flags, to construct complex room-sized installations evoking the overlooked histories of Black Americans in all its messiness and grandeur. "There’s something, that if you’re quiet enough and you listen," says the artist, "you’re being guided or directed to uncover specific bits of information."

DeVille’s "The New Migration," presented by the Studio Museum and staged on the streets of Harlem in 2014, was inspired by the women and men of the Great Migration—the millions of African Americans who escaped the systemic racism and state violence of the Jim Crow South in the twentieth century. Directed by collaborator Charlotte Brathwaite and also performed in Anacostia and Baltimore, "The New Migration" is a grand on-the-street procession of musicians, dancers, marching bands, and community members of all ages donning DeVille's wearable sculptures, which for the artist signify the weight of history.

The project also references the current gentrification of American cities like Harlem and Chicago as the next migration forcing communities of color from their homes. A reckoning facilitated through festivity, DeVille's collaborative community performance honors the agency and hope of Black communities today. "It's something for me to constantly be reminded of," says DeVille, "that we as a people, we're going to get there."

Featuring the artist's installation "Only When It's Dark Enough Can You See the Stars" at The Contemporary, Baltimore; and the artist's 2014 Anacostia performance hosted by the Anacostia Arts Center. Locations include The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum. Also featuring music by Artem Bemba, Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber, Cloudjumper, Jade Hicks, Justin Hicks, Kenita Miller-Hicks, New Edition Legacy Marching Band, and Pedro Santiago.

Abigail DeVille (b. 1981, New York, New York, USA) lives and works in the Bronx, New York. Learn more about the artist at: https://art21.org/artist/abigail-devi...

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