The Second African Burial Ground in Manhattan’s Lower East Side will finally receive proper recognition. Submissions are now open for a public artwork to honor the site, which resurfaced in public consciousness in 2006 when construction crews working on a New Museum extension found human remains. The Africa Society had buried free and enslaved Black people under the two blocks that now include the Sara D. Roosevelt Park after the location near what is now City Hall closed in 1794. While a museum and monument to commemorate the first burial ground exist, the Chrystie Street cemetery was left unacknowledged.
M’Finda Kalunga Garden, which translates to “garden at the edge of the other side of the world” in the Kikongo language, had been working toward a memorial for several years. Debra Jeffreys-Glass, a volunteer leader, dreamed of the project to continue the organization’s work of honoring the Black people that shaped the LES. Now, FABnyc, a coalition of cultural and artistic organizations combating cultural displacement in the neighborhood, has launched an application for a proposed installation, which will close before midnight EDT on Saturday, March 18.
In a two-round process, a group of around seven stakeholders including Black cultural leaders, historians, and arts professionals will select an artist or collective after narrowing down the submissions to a shortlist. Grantees whose project best resonates with the burial ground, fits with the garden’s landscape, and educates the public will receive $32,500 to cover an artist fee and expenses. FABnyc will announce the selected installation this spring and provide finalists with a $1,000 honorarium, and the public opening is tentatively slated for Juneteenth Independence Day 2024, giving artists a year to plan and execute.
Once selected, recipients will have time to collaborate with M’Finda Kalunga to develop their proposal before constructing. FABnyc’s executive director, Ryan Gilliam, told Hyperallergic that it’s important for artists to consider residents’ voices when designing the project, as the installation will be in their space. “Part of what we’re looking for is an artist who has some experience working with communities,” said Glass.
In 2019, FABnyc partnered with M’Finda Kalunga to commission the temporary exhibition LES Black & Red. Dennis Redmoon Darkeem, an artist of African-American and Yamassee Creek-Seminole heritage who was born and raised in New York, displayed seven collage works and four light boxes honoring the values and histories of the Lenape and African peoples of the LES.
Gilliam notes that many current residents may not realize the area’s heritage, which is why the installation is crucial. “It’s a welcoming call,” he said. “It helps make a more welcoming environment for Black residents now.”