Abigail DeVille’s Harlem Stories


How does an artist acknowledge forgotten people? Artist Abigail DeVille stalks the streets of Harlem with a trash-laden push cart, creating temporary sculptural interventions along the way. Stopping at Lenox Avenue and 131st Street, Bronx-born DeVille tucks a smiling plaster cast of her face into an outdoor planter. It’s the site of her grandfather’s childhood home, a former brownstone converted into a conspicuous eyesore of an apartment building. DeVille explains that placing the sculpture there is an act of personal and historical reclamation, a way of acknowledging “groups of people that occupied a space that no longer exists…but helped shape the space into what it is now.” Over Super 8mm film footage of contemporary Harlem, DeVille describes a landscape under the constant pressure of development and gentrification. “It feels like the the earth is shifting,” she says. Pushing her unwieldy cart to the East River no man’s land at the base of the Willis Avenue Bridge, DeVille unloads heaps of distressed wood, rusty metal, mannequin heads, and trash bags. This unkempt and unceremonious site is the presumed location of a colonial-era African burial ground where free and enslaved families buried their dead. And the perfect spot for her latest sculpture. Deville sees her work as “an exercise in acknowledgment” and asserts that trash is the ideal material for talking about a forgotten history “because that’s how those people were treated. That’s how that site is being treated.”


United States

Directed by:

Nick Ravich