Taken Away is a project of Art in Odd Places 2021: NORMAL curated by Furusho Von Puttkammer, with curatorial assistants Yasmeen Abdallah, Lorelle Pais, and Natalie Ortiz. artinoddplaces.org.
There is a layer of sorrow embedded in the soil. In 1918, the Spanish Flu killed an estimated 675,000 people in the United States. The echoes of their tragedy, before almost silent, are suddenly deafeningBecause once again, our country is mourning.
I have been asked to participate, alongside 65 artists from around the world, in a performance art festival in New York City with the theme normal. Normal today means loss—of people, habits, opportunities, and the ability to mourn communally.
I began to think of healing that could be done through ceremony. I gathered names from death records in Manhattan. In September 1918, there seemed to be a kind of hesitancy to admit what was happening. A month later, the epidemic couldn’t be ignored.
October 12, 1918 causes of death: influenza, Spanish Flu, epidemic flu. I watched it ravage through families and communities. It didn’t exclusively prey on the weak, but those in their prime. The same generation that was already giving lives to “The Great War.” Today, all of us have had some sort of loss. In times when we are not able to gather and mourn together, how can we receive healing?
In May 2021, I will be cradling a white dress in my arms as I walk down 14th street in Manhattan. The dress holds the names of victims of the Spanish Flu who died in that Burrough, written in invisible wax. I’ll spread the dress on the sidewalk, outside the Salvation Army Headquarters, and rub gathered foliage onto it, leaving the green pigment on the dress and exposing the names of those who died in the previous epidemic.
I believe there is healing in remembering, in understanding the dirt we stand on, in understanding that we will return to the earth. We sow our own layer of sorrow for our posterity.