This October I will install a new art project, Secular Columbarium for the Island, at the (e)merge art fair in the Capitol Skyline Hotel. When I saw the call for on-site projects, I knew I wanted to create a work that was connected somehow to Southwest DC, where the hotel is located. The installation I am creating is what I call a “mythologization” of Southwest (known in the nineteenth century as “the Island”). My project is a way to create an experience inside the fair that connects viewers to the surrounding community and neighborhoods, and in order to make it a reality I would love to speak with residents of the area about their experiences of living in Southwest.

Illustration courtesy of Leigh Davis

A columbarium is a chamber housing urns holding the remains of the deceased, as well as intimate statements and private gestures; the urns often contain snapshots, drawings, toys and other keepsakes of a life past. Each niche in the columbarium is a tiny room, a stage upon which the deceased continue to perform their “last words” through objects and gestures. The installation I will build is an imagined memorial, in which artifacts from Southwest’s recent and distant history will mix with more loosely-associated objects of my choosing. The items that will fill the columbarium are inspired by archival research, content gleaned online and personal interviews, enmeshed with my own thoughts and perceptions of the neighborhood. My goal is not to make something nostalgic, nor to try and recapture the area’s past, but to use the diverse elements I can gather to create a semi-fictional narrative about the very vibrant and present place in which the project will be located.

Speaking with residents of Southwest DC would be invaluable in helping to make this project meaningful. Books and websites can only tell me so much about the area. To me, nothing is better to me than speaking in person, to ask questions and listen to what residents have to say about their lives in the present. Former residents, and others familiar with the neighborhood and its changes (past, present and/or pending future) are also invited to contact me.

Please contact me by phone or email if you (or others you know) have an interest in speaking with me about the project and your experiences in Southwest DC. I am interested in everything: personal accounts, everyday rituals, affiliations with organizations and churches, childhood memories, music preferences, or just your opinion about the neighborhood. Your voices are what will make this project interesting for me to create and for viewers to experience this fall. Thank you for your interest.

Leigh Davis

Contact by phone: (347) 341-1875 Or email:

By Leigh Davis, one of 152 artists whose work will be displayed at the (e)merge art fair  from October 4-7 at the Capitol Skyline Hotel.  She currently resides in Brooklyn, NY.

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