The West Harlem Art Fund and artist Molly Must are proud to announce the exhibition of Polly’s Cradle, an interactive installation centering an adult-sized cradle and oversized mobile, with original soundscape by artist Kyp Malone. Must created the welded steel sculptures at the Steel Yard in Providence, Rhode Island, and composed the installation during her Visual Muze Storytelling Residency through the West Harlem Art Fund in the summer of 2022. The installation will be on view at Governors Island until October 30.
Polly’s Cradle was inspired by a story passed down through Must’s Appalachian family for generations, about her Scots-Irish great-great-great-great-grandmother Mary Moore, known as “Polly,” who was taken captive by Shawnee warriors in 1786, when she was 10 years old.
Following an attack on her homestead and the slaying of her family, Polly was taken by Black Wolf (son of Cornstalk) on a journey of 500 miles, as his clan retreated from ongoing attacks by white settler militia. She experienced tenderness once she was integrated in the group, but was eventually sold to an English fur trader in Canada where she lived in servitude and was severely abused. Three years after her capture, Polly united with a surviving family member and was brought home to the Appalachian Mountains. Later in life, she commissioned an adult-sized cradle to help her cope with PTSD-related insomnia. The story is documented in a book published by her son, James Moore, titled The Captives of Abb’s Valley.
“Polly’s story is one of intense sorrow that speaks to the complexities of colonialism and patriarchy, wherein thousands of traumatized people are pitted against each other in a fight for cultural and bodily sovereignty,” Must said. “For Polly (who is my namesake) the cradle was a vessel of healing and comfort, a literal space to attend grief and trauma, cultural splintering and loneliness. For me, the cradle symbolizes many contradictions: innocence versus complicity, safety versus power, belonging versus otherness. It is an ongoing work exploring my whiteness and personhood, ancestry and relationship to the mountains, acknowledging and reckoning with the settler colonial history that my lineage is tied to.”
The cradle is made of welded steel, muslin and painted cotton textile, and people are invited to get in it and experience being gently rocked. The oversized mobile is made of welded steel and found iron agricultural artifacts. The soundscape is created by Kyp Malone, sampling Molly’s voice reading from The Captives of Abbs Valley, and also her and her mother’s voice singing a traditional family lullaby.
Molly Must is a public artist from [Hillsboro] West Virginia, with long-standing interest in storytelling, collectivism, monuments and public history. Her practice is rooted in painting, metal sculpture and installation. She spent 10 years organizing and painting community murals in Asheville, North Carolina, and gained interest in sculpture through her work as a carpenter. She recently completed a master’s in painting and sculpture at the New York Studio School in Greenwich Village. For more information, visit www.mollymust.com
The West Harlem Art Fund is a 24 year old public art and new media organization dedicated to presenting art and culture in public spaces in promotion of historical and cultural heritage. For more information, visit https://westharlem.art/
Our heritage symbol Afuntummireku-denkyemmtreku is the double crocodile from West Africa Ghana which means unity in diversity.
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