“Societies never know it, but the war of an artist with his society is a lover’s war, and he does, at his best, what lovers do, which is to reveal the beloved to himself and, with that revelation, to make freedom real.”—James Baldwin, The Creative Process

New York-based sculptor Abigail DeVille uses history itself as raw material. She researches and mines traditionally hidden and often traumatic stories of Black America in order to raise questions about our present, and through her thoughtful process, creates installations that can both provoke and inspire us. One such work was commissioned for Madison Square Park in New York in June 2020, in real-time response to the political tumult and protests that erupted in the wake of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police. DeVille turned her artistic attention to an iconic emblem of American freedom: the Statue of Liberty. The resulting sculpture, Light of Freedom, is on view in the Hirshhorn’s Sculpture Garden starting October 15. Light of Freedom brings the symbols of freedom and equality down to earth, where they meet the complexities of this current moment of reckoning. Situated on the National Mall, a site where slave auctions took place through the late-nineteenth century, DeVille’s work asks that we look closely at the gap between our professed ideals and our actions, and reminds us that liberty itself is an ever-lilting, ever-tenuous work in progress.

DeVille joins Hirshhorn associate curator Anne Reeve to discuss the roles public art and performance can play in bringing to light untold and overlooked stories of our past, as we attempt to understand them in relation to our present.

This virtual event is part of Talking to Our Time, the Hirshhorn’s series of free artist talks featuring a diverse group of artists and collectives. View all events!

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