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The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2021

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JUNE 2021 Issue
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Serubiri Moses

There are three parks that I have frequented during this time, and that is: Hudson River Park, Duarte Square, and Tribeca Park. I go to Tribeca Park to have a lunch sandwich, or to drink my coffee, or to read. I will sometimes grab a coffee from Starbucks and sit with a book on the park benches in Tribeca Park. I often enjoy staring up at the trees and the Art Deco building. In fact, I was at this park earlier today. I go to Duarte Square similarly to have a sort of evening stroll. I tend to go there and sit briefly to get on the phone, or to just watch the crowd and passers-by. I might sit there with another sandwich too. Then, I have visited the Hudson River Park in the very early hours of the day to bike, as the park’s bike lane goes all the way to Battery Park, and standing at the tip of the Manhattan island, you can see the Statue of Liberty, even faintly. On Duarte Square, I noticed that people leave wreaths and flowers at the foot of the large Juan Pablo Duarte statue as a kind of commemoration. This commemoration strikes me as both sincere and unusual. Not that Duarte is not worthy of praise (he was a key figure in the liberation of 19th century Dominican Republic) but merely that this act of commemoration intersects with the various acts of commemoration and defacement taking place on the island. This seems to be an important question: how to commemorate? And what is the meaning of commemoration at a time such as this, in which there is a raging global pandemic, and people are struggling for their lives, with many dying silently? It seems possible in, for example, the phenomenon of Zoom funerals. But it also seems impossible since representations of memory and ritual life appear at odds with the museological and commercial art field, as one which appears to be “secular.” This reflects the extreme separation between rituals of daily life and the commodity-driven sphere of museum exhibitions. Yet mourning seems both possible and impossible; not only because commemoration continues to function in the daily tallies of COVID-19 deaths and the immensity of funerals taking place, but it also seems both limited and restrained. It seems in other ways that mourning has not been possible. Despite the mass burials from COVID-19 in the city, there still remains a sort of veiled indifference in the field of art, despite rare exhibitions like the recent Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America at the New Museum. Perhaps it seems right to talk about the failure to mourn as well, in addition to mourning silently. I bring up the wreaths at the Juan Pablo Duarte statue because it is the opposite gesture to that of the defacing of public monuments that has only increased in intensity in the last year. The unexpected tumble into the Bristol Harbour in England that British slave trader Edward Colston’s statue took sparked serious dialogue but also discord. Thus, it seems appropriate to ask, what is taking place in the sphere of public memory as evidenced by these varying rituals and actions towards public monuments? This reminds me that what is indeed possible is that we can mourn, and that public memory is being redressed as we speak. If the British slave trade portrayed in the Colston statue, and the less-known liberation of the Dominican Republic portrayed in the Duarte statue are anything to go by, it means that public memory is being redressed through these actions of defacement and commemoration.

Contributor

Serubiri Moses

Serubiri Moses is an Ugandan writer and curator, based in New York.

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The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2021

All Issues