In particular, The Bronx has served as a sanctuary for immigrant and migrant communities over the last 120 years, including for Abigail DeVille and several generations of her family who have lived in the area and were part of the Great Migration. With a humanizing lens, DeVille’s work utilizes found materials and detritus to unearth forgotten narratives of communities of color. When these communities seek to reach another realm in pursuit of happiness, what does freedom mean? DeVille describes freedom as “amorphous, shapeshifting, and elusive” as her work further explores issues of identity, culture, and class.
The North gallery is transformed into a large-scale installation that includes a living room space housing paintings and sculptures related to familial histories and history of the Bronx. DeVille investigates how history is understood through family members and their belongings, drawing connections between people. Situated throughout the space are several “Libertas” sculptures inspired by the Roman Goddess of liberty who became the patron of freed enslaved people in Roman society. Juxtaposing materials that represent contradictory symbols of freedom, the pieces evoke complex narratives. A floor-to-ceiling monument of mannequin parts that are shrouded with a dark, punctured covering serves as an homage to the unknown inhabitants of the Bronx, referencing their invisible labor and layers of history that have been erased.
In the lobby is a space capsule, in which visitors are invited to enter, share their stories as if in a confessional booth, and be transported. With the sculpture comprising elements of an ancient temple, DeVille’s work creates a sense of time travel. On select days prior to the opening and during the course of the show, the space capsule travels to outdoor cultural festivals, schools, and senior centers in the Bronx to collect stories. Employing remnants entwined with their own pasts along with visitors’ participation and perspectives, DeVille constructs archives and memories of personal and collective stories.
Visitors can listen to the recordings in a large monolithic sculpture, which is a nod to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and a reminder of the past as we move forward. An installation comprising vintage television monitors examines different aspects of The Bronx’s history over the last 100 years. Overhead is a phoenix-like UFO sculpture, a spiritual and allegorical creature that symbolizes renewal and eternity.
DeVille’s exhibition reminds us that history is incomplete and provides a way for all to contribute their counter narratives and participate in space travel. Investigating the slippage of time, Bronx Heavens explores how humans and the land are part of the same cosmos—interconnected and entwined—-where past, present, and future collide. The exhibition invites visitors to imagine and experience alternative narratives, providing a portal to the future and hope through a critical lens.