Multidisciplinary arts festival ‘Archive of Desire’ celebrates poetry across New York City starting April 28

archive of desire festival
“Archive of Desire,” a multi-disciplinary arts festival honoring poet C.P. Cavafy, will kick off on April 28 at National Sawdust in Brooklyn.
Photo by Jill Steinberg, courtesy of National Sawdust

An arts festival of all kinds, inspired by one of the most transcendental poets of the 20th century, C.P. Cavafy, will kick off in Brooklyn on April 28. “Archive of Desire” is a series of works from a number of different artists inspired by the words, social criticism and poetry of the literary master.

At least fourteen events — performances, audiovisual installations, short films, lectures, a large-scale mural, a multi-voice concert and poetry readings — will take over indie spaces from the heart of Williamsburg to Manhattan. The festival honors Cavafy’s far-reaching legacy and and attempts to animate it for modern audiences.

“We are talking about some of the greatest artists of our time coming together to celebrate poetry,” said the festival curator, Paola Prestini, co-founder and artistic director of National Sawdust, a non-profit music venue that aims to build new audiences for classical and new music from both emerging and established artists and composers.

“Poetry is one of my first and deep loves,” she said. “When I was told to visit the archive from Cavafy’s world, I traveled to Greece and began to dive deeply into his work and I felt really in love with so many concepts in his work that I felt were really pertinent to today.”

poet c.p. cavafy archive of desire festival
“Archive of Desire” honors and elevates the work of 20th-century poet C.P. Cavafy.Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Cavafy’s poems were unconventional for his time, but his genius was still recognized. Now, he is admired for his versatile craftsmanship and the perfectionism that took him to obsessively refine every line of his poetry.

“Aside from being an independent publisher who took meticulous care of his work, he was this incredibly important figure in the queer community,” said Prestini. “He lived this beautifully rich and central life, but hidden. So, digging into all of this just became an incredible journey.”

The venues selected to exhibit the art at, were chosen to mirror Cavafy’s aesthetic. Different parts of the festival will take place in spaces that resemble the homes and spots where he would do his work —National Sawdust in Brooklyn, the McNally Jackson Bookstores, the ONX Studio in the Olympic Tower at Rockefeller Center, the New Museum, St. Thomas Church with Death of Classical, The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church, Columbia University, and elsewhere throughout the city.

Archive of Desire will officially kick off at National Sawdust on April 28 with “Constantinopoliad,” a performance by Sister Sylvester and musical artist Nadah El Shazly, an interpretation of the gaps in Cavafy’s annotations from the time he explored the nightlife of Constantinople.

“I think what is wonderful about his work is that it’s actually quite direct,” said the curator. “It’s the kind of work that can be really experienced on a visceral level. In terms of what people wanna experience, it really depends. For visual arts, they’re gonna love Julianne Moore’s piece [Visual Cavafy at the New Museum on May 4th]. If they like contemporary classical, they’ll wanna go to the Rockefeller Center where we actually commissioned five women and non-binary composers to create an amazing installation. Or they wanna go up to Columbia University if they wanna go deep into poetry.”

“Archive of Desire” runs from April 28 – May 6 at venues across New York City. For tickets and additional information, visit the Onassis Foundation’s website