Winter is fast approaching, but with COVID rates still rising in NYC and across the country, outdoor art experiences are still more vital than ever. Enter the Light of Freedom, the latest large-scale installation to grace Manhattan’s Madison Square Park from the nonprofit Madison Square Park Conservancy.
Open to the public through January 2021, Light of Freedom is artist Abigail DeVille’s take on the iconic torch held aloft by the Statue of Liberty, recontextualized to critique the promise of freedom offered by the iconic monument and the legacy of enslaved peoples in America.
This is the Bronx-based DeVille’s first solo show in New York, and like other recent site-specific installations in the park, seems at first glance like an assemblage of found objects. The effect is intentional, and the “unfinished” nature of the 12-foot-tall Light of Freedom echoes a worksite, with scaffolding hoisting the skeleton of a torch into the air. The message is clear: If the torch symbolizes freedom, it’s a work in progress, perhaps forever.
But there are more secrets hidden inside for parkgoers to discover. What looks like flames are actually mannequin arms reaching for the heavens (both a “blue wave” and the hottest part of a fire, according to the New York Times), beckoning viewers and representing the crushing manpower required to build the country. The arms serve simultaneously as a readable symbol of oppression, but even then, they grasp towards the future.
DeVille was tasked by the conservancy to create a piece that responded to the summer of racial protesting that roiled the U.S., the pandemic, and the upcoming election that would be accessible for New Yorkers.
“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 the Madison Square Park Conservancy, in a press release. “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.”
Although specific dates haven’t been announced yet, Light of Freedom will be accompanied by Zoom discussions with DeVille. This is the 40th such outdoor public art installation commissioned by the conservancy.