‘We’re All Participants in History’: Watch Artist Abigail DeVille Reimagine the Statue of Liberty for the 21st Century

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the Art21 "Extended Play" film, "Abigail DeVille: 'Light of Freedom.'" © Art21, Inc. 2021.

For the artist Abigail DeVille, watching Black Lives Matter marches over the past summer was pivotal. She recalls the throngs of protesters, arms linked, eyes staring straight amid a full on pandemic.

Those images, seared in her memory, prompted the creation of her sculpture, Light of Freedom (2020), commissioned by the Madison Square Park Conservancy and installed in the Manhattan-based park. The work takes the ubiquitous image of Lady Liberty’s torch and infuses it with contemporary symbolism. The work incorporates scaffolding as a sort of golden cage, in which a torch is suspended. The fiery blue flames of the object are in fact entwined mannequin arms pointing into the distance.

In an exclusive interview with Art21 as part of the “Extended Play” series, the artist spoke about her influences, and the symbolism embedded in the work.

A native New Yorker whose work reflects on the city’s history, DeVille used scaffolding both for its ubiquity in New York and for what it represents.

Things have always been constructed and torn down,” she says. “This idea of freedom is under continual construction—and reconstruction—from generation to generation.” 

Deville was inspired by an elementary school teacher who introduced her to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which she said “planted a seed, for sure, of thinking about how we’re all participants within history.”

Installation view, Abigail DeVille's Light of Freedom (2020). Photo: Andy Romer Photography. Courtesy of the Madison Square Park Conservancy.

Installation view, Abigail DeVille’s Light of Freedom (2020). Photo: Andy Romer Photography. Courtesy of the Madison Square Park Conservancy.

The artist references a 19th-century image she saw in which the hand and torch of the Statue of Liberty were on display in Madison Square Park in a fundraising effort to build its pedestal.

“Society has tried to separate us or define us by our bodies,” DeVille says. But the sculpture and its interlocking limbs are a symbol of the power of joining together “collectively… [to] assert something else.” 

Light of Freedom (2020) will travel to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, in March, and to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, in October.

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s series Extended Playbelow. The brand new 10th season of the show is available now at Art21.org. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org

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