Open Call: Ayanna Dozier
About this commission
Today, New York City’s Hart Island is primarily known as a potter’s field for the burial of unclaimed bodies. With renewed public awareness around its use as a burial ground for those who have died from Covid-19, Hart Island has taken on an additional layer of historical significance given the more severe impact of this pandemic on communities of color, as well as its role as a final resting place for those who have died from HIV/AIDS. Throughout its storied history, the island has also housed an asylum, jail, and sanatorium—and was once the planned location for an amusement park meant to serve the Black population of 1920s Harlem.
Ayanna Dozier’s installation Cities of the Dead traces the imagined (re)construction of Solomon Riley’s park, dubbed “Negro Coney Island,” across an arrangement of photos, speculative monologues from its creator and key Black cultural producers from the Harlem Renaissance, and an architectural rendering of Riley’s abandoned plans co-designed by architect Nina Cooke John. Cities of the Dead establishes and intervenes in the past by fulfilling the opening of Negro Coney Island, which though completed was torn down by the city after it condemned the island to prevent its opening to the public in 1924. Through this temporal intervention, Cities of the Dead reconsiders the role that architecture, presence, and ruins play in remembrance of a people and how Black communities’ histories are forcibly erased. For Dozier, Hart Island is a site for reflecting on the absence in Black life of architectural spaces for mourning, as well as the way in which gross economic and social inequities frame Black death and plague it in its afterlife.
Co-Produced by The Shed and MONO NO AWARE
Elizabeth Riley…………… Selamawit Worku
Harold Curtis Brown ………… Rayly Aquino
Jimmie Daniels ……………… Moses Jeune
Florence Mills …………… Crackhead Barney
James Van Der Zee …………… Terrance Livingston Jr.
Director …………… Ayanna Dozier
Steve Cossman, Production Support
Ayanna Dozier, Costumes/Hair and Makeup
Ayanna Dozier, Sound Design/Editing
“Choo-choo (I Gotta Hurry Home):” Written by Duke Ellington, Dave Ringle, and Bob Schafer; Performed by Duke Ellington’s Washingtonians (Duke Ellington, Billy Murray, Rosario Bourdon, Ed Smalle, William H. Reitz, and Francis J. Lapitino); © Public Domain
“Counting the Blues:” Written Gertrude Rainey; Performed by Ma Rainey and Her Georgia Band; © Public Domain
“Stormy Sea Blues:” Written by Thomas Dorsey; Performed by Ma Rainey and Her Georgia Band; © Public Domain
Special thank you to the following:
Steve Cossman, Lucas Kane, and the team at MONO NO AWARE; Adeze Wilford, Amanda Singer, and the Open Call committee for The Shed; Ja’Tovia Gary, Michael Zumbrun, Nina Cooke John, Alanna Thain, and the COÉRIC Grant committee; the Cast, Solomon and Elizabeth Riley for vision that was 100 years ahead of what could be possible, and Melinda Hunt for your tireless labor in bringing awareness to Hart Island.
over 2 years ago
Thank you to our partners
Additional support for Open Call is provided by Jody and John Arnhold | Arnhold Foundation.
The creation of new work at The Shed is generously supported by the Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Commissioning Fund and the Shed Commissioners. Major support for live productions at The Shed is provided by the Charina Endowment Fund.