New Prospect Park art installation celebrates resilience amid crisis

The installation.
David Andrako / Prospect Park Alliance

Visitors of the Prospect Park Bandshell will now find a colorful text-based art installation referencing the words of the prolific poet Lucille Clifton, which calls to lift the spirits of gloomy Brooklynites feeling despondent about the current state of affairs, said one of the artists behind the project.

“It felt really appropriate as a way to think about this moment and to think about our lives,” said Mildred Beltre, one half of the Crown Heights-based Brooklyn Hi-Art! Machine art collective. “The idea of acknowledging and celebrating the fact that we are still alive.”

Beltre, together with her partner Oasa DuVerney, erected the new neon lettering atop a fence on the Bandshell stage last week — creating the new artistic display entitled “Inspired by ‘What is Left.”

In bright pink, orange, and green lettering, the installation, which was presented by BRIC, NYC Parks, and the Prospect Park Alliance features a quote from Clifton’s 1993 poem “won’t you celebrate with me,” and reads “Come Celebrate With Me That Everyday Something Has Tried to Kill Me And Has Failed.”

The abstract expression of jubilee, along with the stage that had hosted the Celebrate Brooklyn concert series every summer since 1979 until the pandemic hit, helped provide the perfect setting for the artists to amplify their message, said Beltre.

“It’s a site of amplification, that is literally what it’s known for,” she said. “I like the idea of placing a message there.”

The duo’s collective, which they formed 10 years ago, is also responsible for a number of other fence weavings across the borough — including at the Brooklyn Museum, where they installed the phrase “Do not disappear into silence” in bright red letters on the building’s exterior.

Like many of their other works, Beltre and DuVerney’s Bandshell installation is ingrained with stark undertones and messages of racial justice, just as the late Clifton’s poetry frequently magnified the trials and tribulations of Black womens’ experience in America.

In using the words of the two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, particularly on the usually-celebratory Prospect Park stage, the duo hopes the new installation will serve as an invitation to celebrate all aspects of Black womanhood, said DuVerney.

“It’s definitely a call to celebrate all and everything about us, not just when we entertain you with music or with dancing,” said Oasa DuVerney.

In choosing to use Clifton’s phrase “Something has tried to kill me and failed,” the artists have highlighted a direct allusion to the pandemic, which as killed Black people at three times the rate of their white counterparts — as well as other struggles faced by Black Americans, like the ongoing tensions between police and people of color, said DuVerney.

“This world is literally trying to kill us every day,” she said. “And it didn’t just start with COVID-19.”

“Inspired by ‘What is Left.” on display until May 2021 at the Prospect Park Bandshell. 

Ben Verde

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