For Bronx-born artist Sean Desiree, woodworking is a medium for building community and solidarity. Desiree’s latest work, a large-scale installation called Beam Ensemble, uses hemlock timber beams and four musical instruments from the African diaspora to celebrate the work of Black composers and foster connections across diverse audiences. Displayed on an open lawn in the Bronx’s Crotona Park, the structure is divided into four segments meant to emulate the sectional arrangements of conventional western orchestras, encouraging viewers to interact with both the art and one another.
As with many of Desiree’s earlier and ongoing projects, the piece in Crotona Park underscores a deep interest in music and woodcraft as mediums for exploring buried histories and reflecting on their experience as a non-binary artist of color. Beam Ensemble features a kora, an amadinda, a tongue drum, and other forms of percussion to pay homage to the often unacknowledged contributions of Black creators to classical music production in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The installation constitutes one of the first known physical commemorations of a rich compositional tradition that includes Nathaniel Dett, William Grant Still, Florence Beatrice Price, and several others.
Commissioned by the New York-based nonprofit organization More Art, Beam Ensemble is an outgrowth of a joint fellowship and residency program for early-career and underrepresented creators called “Engaging Artists.” As part of the program’s effort to promote public art as a means of creating “powerful experiences that aggregate individual and collective perspectives on sensitive topics,” Desiree was awarded $8,000 to develop and produce the piece for a two-month outdoor exhibition.
While Beam Ensemble is Desiree’s largest 3-dimensional installation to date, their 2-dimensional wood-based work was featured in a 2019 solo exhibition at MINNA in Hudson, New York. Titled Lifted: Public Housing, an Aerial Perspective, that collection portrayed a bird’s-eye views of seven public housing units in Hudson, with all proceeds going towards a grant for a local artist living in public housing.
Desiree deepened their interest in wood structures while co-facilitating a BIPOC Building Immersion program in upstate New York in 2019, an experience that solidified their “aim to design life-size structures and sculptures that act as sanctuaries, protectors and symbols of empowerment for BIPOC queer, trans and nonbinary people.”
Beam Ensemble will be on display in Crotona Park until October 26, 2021.