The critically lauded installation artist and sculptor was just a few weeks shy of her first-ever institutional retrospective, Bronx Heavens, which opened in October at the museum. For over a decade, DeVille has closely studied buried Black American histories—their erasure and neglect—through galactic sculptures and phenomenal site-specific installations, using found materials and refuse.
“I like to think about our place within the cosmos or the stars. Breaking out of this smallness and the ways in which we’ve been forced to compartmentalize everything,” she shares thoughtfully. DeVille’s art pushes for liberation and expansive thought. Through urban sculptural interventions and immersive installations, she protects and reclaims lost Black narratives—whether placing smiling plaster casts of her face at her paternal grandfather’s childhood home in Harlem or honoring a centuries-old African burial ground in East Harlem through a debris-sourced sculptural homage.
Working at the nexus of forgotten Black American legacies, oppression, and displacement, DeVille interrogates liberty and justice. She questions who gets to be the beneficiaries of those freedoms and who has been denied them for centuries. In 2020, as a racial reckoning raged across America, compounded by a global pandemic and Trump’s polarizing politics, DeVille’s symbolic outdoor sculpture, Light of Freedom (2020), at Madison Square Park examined the country’s long-standing hypocrisy when it comes to Black liberation. The 13-feet-tall public artwork, a golden scaffold supporting a torch with a rusted bell and blue mannequin arms, emulated the Statue of Liberty’s actual hand, which was displayed in the same park from 1876 to 1882, as it sought funds for a pedestal. A commemorative nod to the 11 enslaved Angolans brought to New Amsterdam in 1626, Light of Freedom then traveled to the Momentary, a satellite of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, and the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC.