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‘Arrivals + Departures’ installation honors life and death at Borough Hall

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"Arrivals + Departures" is on view outside Borough Hall at Joralemon Street through April 11.
Sam Polcer

A new interactive art installation outside Borough Hall in Downtown Brooklyn pays tribute to the living and the dead by featuring a pair of kiosks denoting “Arrivals” and “Departures” — allowing onlookers to see a ever-changing list of names, along with the date of their birth or death, said one of the artists behind the project. 

“All of us who are viewing the work have arrived and we’ve made that first step, and then there’s the journey in between the two boards that we’re all currently on,” said Davina Drummond, who created the “Arrivals + Departures” exhibit with fellow artist Yara El-Sherbini under the moniker YARA+DAVINA

The public can submit names of someone dead or alive — which can include anyone from a loved one to a famous historical figure — via the project’s website, which will then be displayed for at least seven minutes on the boards resembling panels at airports or train stations.  

“The public gets to choose whose name is on there, your grannie, your baby brother, or a political activist you love, or a scientist, or an amazing jazz musician — but you get to choose,” El-Sherbini said.

Submissions can also include a story about the person, and the entries will be displayed on the website after they are no longer on the mechanical boards, and beyond the installation’s end date on April 11.

The public can submit anyone for the boards, from their grannie to a beloved musician or inspiring activist.Sam Polcer

While the artwork debuted in London last fall, and came to America’s Downtown as part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s spring programming, the artists originally conceived of the project five years ago as a general meditation on life and death, and who gets commemorated in public spaces — but it has taken on a new urgency amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the summer protests against police killings of Black people. 

“There was George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and this absolute upstart in people saying, ‘Say my name,’ and all of a sudden we had this work asking for names to be said and announced,” said El-Sherbini. “It was about creating a piece of public art that was actually created by the public and for the public and actually reflected the public.”

Submissions also became a touching way to celebrate newborn children and honor the dead this year, as people avoid holding in-person tributes, according to Drummond.

“People have not been [able] to go to funerals and they haven’t been [able] to go to celebrations of babies being born,” the artist said. “People have been using the boards to mark those people they didn’t get to say goodbye to in really powerful ways and really honest genuine ways.”

BAM will also host a virtual conversation about the artwork on March 23 exploring the power of naming in public sculptures and memorials.

“Arrivals + Departures” at Borough Hall [290 Joralemon St., between Court Street and Boerum Place in Downtown Brooklyn, www.yaraanddavina.com or www.bam.org/arrivals-departures]. Open March 14-April 11, all day. Free. Submit names at www.arrivalsanddepartures.net.

“The Power of Naming” at Brooklyn Academy of Music [virtual, RSVP at www.bam.org/onstage.aspx] March 23 at 12:30 pm. Free.

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