Abigail DeVille Listens to History | Art21 “New York Close Up”

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[“New York Close Up”] There’s something that,
if you’re quiet enough and you listen, you’re being guided or directed to uncover
specific bits of information. There’s always this act of digging, kind of like resuscitating life
back into those lost fragments. [“Abigail DeVille Listens to History”] [The Contemporary at the Peale Museum, Baltimore] The materials that I choose are already speaking– speaking to the past through internal intuition. History is deep.
It’s dark. It affects everything that’s happening,
even at this very moment. It’s like a rock. You can try to tease out little bits
in trying to make your way through material or make a way through space. [Abigail DeVille, artist]
History is the tale of the victor, right? It’s garbage. It’s garbage. Like George Washington’s “wooden teeth”
were actually teeth from slaves. God! It’s nauseating. It’s like the more you don’t want to know,
you know? [National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, Baltimore] Well I think the first thing to go in history
is the atrocities. Nobody wants to remember that. That’s the stuff that has to get swept away. Cover up–whitewash–is all attributed to
the inability to get over slavery. It’s the hangover that is not going away. There’s merit in the attempt to make something that could talk about something
larger than yourself. People are messy,
history is messy. The work needs to…
[LAUGHS] reflect that. Thinking about bureaucracy
and things just piling up. Thinking about all the voices that were lost. When things are painful,
people don’t want to talk about them. But we can’t forget about
the class of invisible people that were present at every single juncture
and every single moment in the formation of this country and its myths. One of the incredible beauties
and strengths of African Americans is this propensity for joy and endurance– despite all. There’s joy to occupy space in direct opposition
or contrast of the dominant narrative. [“The New Migration,” Harlem, New York] [SINGING AND PERCUSSION] “The New Migration” processionals
have been more human-scale. They’re usually guerilla performances
that happen. They’re unannounced. You encounter them or you don’t. [SINGING CONTINUES] [DEVILLE]
–What inspired me to do that? [DEVILLE]
–It’s based on migration of people. [MAN]
–I get your concept,
but where do I fit into that? [DEVILLE]
–Oh, where do you fit into it? –Where do you want to fit into it? [MAN]
–I don’t want you to answer that… [DEVILLE]
–That’s for you to figure out!
Yes… [MAN]
— …but it’s what I ask of myself all the time. [DEVILLE]
–Oh, all right! [LAUGHS] From 1914 to 1970,
the Great Migration happened and six million African Americans
came up North looking for better opportunities. What’s happening now is this kind of reversal– of people being pushed out
of places that they moved to. Just because it was north didn’t mean that
the racial tensions had gone anywhere. Well yeah, because white supremacy
is what’s for dinner, you know? [SINGING & MUSIC] [“The New Migration,”
Anacostia, Washington, D.C.] Dragging. Walking barefoot. It’s the invisible weights
that people are walking around with. The weight of history holds you down. I thought it was important to
insert people where nobody knows about what Black people
have contributed to the history of society. [SINGING & MUSIC] [SINGING & MUSIC CONTINUES] In Martin Luther King’s last speech–
the “Mountaintop Speech”– he says, “Somehow, only when it’s dark enough
can you see the stars.” I was immediately drawn to the fearless optimism. Love feels like this powerful force that actually could enact change
more than hate ever could. I think hate causes a kind of exhaustion. It’s something for me
never to lose sight of– or to constantly be reminded of– that we, as a people, we’re going to get there.


  1. A celebration of the state of being a victim. Nothing is being said here that hasn't been said a million times before. There is a smattering of creativity in the physical implementation of a concept that is tired and not in the least bit innovative.

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