By Southwester Staff
At sunrise on October 15 on the National Mall, Abigail DeVille’s new performance, WAKE UP: Liberation Call at Dawn, called citizens to attention through a procession rooted in drumming, referencing various cries of protest and action throughout American history, a narrative that includes lesser-known events such as the Stono Slave Rebellion of 1739.
As a counter to the calls for insurrection that occurred at the Capitol on January 6, DeVille gathered with other artists to sound a collective call for freedom, to insist upon the rejection of lies propagated as truth, and to embrace new and vital tellings of the American story.
The occasion was the opening celebration of the Light of Freedom exhibit by DeVille In the Hirshhorn Museum’s outdoor Sculpture Garden on the National Mall. The 13-foot-tall sculpture is a mixed-media work through which the artist responds to the Black Lives Matter movement within the larger context of America’s long relationship to the idea of liberty itself.
DeVille draws inspiration from a 1876 photograph that captured the disembodied hand of Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty in New York’s Madison Square Park. The fragment was displayed between 1876–1882 to excite crowds and inspire donations for its
pedestal. A square of golden scaffolding frames DeVille’s torch, suggesting a construction site. The artist has exchanged Bartholdi’s solid handle for a latticed cage that wraps around a rusted metal bell that can be seen but not rung. Above it, a flame is composed of outstretched mannequin arms painted deep blue to suggest the hottest part of a fire.
In referencing America’s long-heralded emblem of freedom, DeVille recasts national monuments as sites that embody democracy only for some and questions the distance between American ideas and actions. By positioning the torch’s flame to face the U.S. Capitol
building, DeVille’s work interrogates the popular mythology embedded in the National Mall, critiquing America’s promise of freedom and the tenuous nature of the ideals citizens are charged to uphold.
The work celebrates “people that hooked each other arm-in- arm, and protested in the face of, potentially, death, through this pandemic, to fight for whatever this nation actually pretends that it was founded or based on,” DeVille said in a press release.