SEASCAPE WITH THE FABULOUS PLANT OF REJUVENATION IN THE ABZU
BY IVAN FORDE
Ivan Forde’s first large-scale public work poeticizes Rockaway’s history and depicts an underwater seascape of literary characters alongside local fish and birds. Centered around the magical plant from the ancient Mesopotamian epic poem Gilgamesh/He Who Saw The Deep, Forde’s mural presents a boat with sailors, the hydrodynamics of water, and a mysterious diver among an amalgamation of healing plants, including those used in Forde’s birthplace of Guyana, native to the Rockaways, and cultivated across cultures. It will acknowledge Forde’s extensive research of history and ancestry, ranging from the artist’s conversations with his father to the legacy of the Rockaways’ indigenous Lenape people.
Origin of all life, our ocean is a unique realm in the known universe. Eldest of Earth’s features, its force molds territories; its depth holds more mysteries than outer space, and it has inspired wild imaginings in art across cultures and time. My mural asks; what meaning(s) might the sea hold for us right now?
Below the thunderous flux of Aquamarine waves,
Far, far beneath perpetually dark
Hidden away diaphanous
Deep in the primeval ocean
Glistening in an aquatic garden
Firmly rooted looms this fabled plant.
Lapis lazuli blossoms linked on a lofty stem
Shimmering shades of indigo leaves
Oozing majestic gold sap,
Expressing its miraculous healing properties,
Yielding longevity and renewed youth to
Generations before the flood,
Tended to by antediluvian sages.
Primary flower among terrestrials
Long extinct relic of memory,
Flanked by the sacred Aloe,
Revered succulent of immortality by queens
Of Egypt olde.
Its submarine turf once disclosed by
The ark builder Utnapishtim to a
Heavy-hearted diver on his journey
Back home across the sea,
Resurfacing from an unfathomable depth
On the back of a seabird
Alight on the bow of his ship,
Hovering still under celestial lunettes.
The literary motif of the magical plant from the ancient Mesopotamian epic poem Gilgamesh/He Who Saw The Deep, guided my creative approach in designing the first mural at this scale derived from a cyanotype. My research embraced knowledge systems that amplify symbiotic relationships to nature, ranging from conversations with my father about medicinal plants, to the legacy of the Rockaways’ indigenous Lenape people and the local ecology. I carefully placed collected objects such as translucent sea glass and old nails, alongside coastal flowering plants and photographic negatives of marine life, onto paper coated with a light sensitive chemistry. This method is called a photogram, and it allows me to compose imagery by hand with sunlight. Extended exposures create deeper ultramarine tones, while shorter lengths of time generate lighter blues. Working with the cyanotype process changes my relationship to the world around me. My body and ordinary objects in my surroundings are relocated to intensely imaginative scenes from classical poetry. My artistic practice unites a combination of costume making, printmaking, performative self-portraits in the studio, painting and collage. This seascape mural reflects on the Rockaways as a site of rejuvenation for NYC after the storm of the pandemic.
Seascape With The Fabulous Plant of Rejuvenation In The Abzu will be activated by a dynamic series of virtual and outdoor in-person events that will be free and open to the public, including a family artmaking workshop that will introduce children and caregivers to cyanotype—a photographic
printing process frequently used by Forde—an artist talk, and a meditative sound performance.
The new mural and its programming build on the Rockaway Hotel’s groundbreaking commitment—spearheaded by Michi Jigarjian, Managing Partner, Chief Social Impact Officer—to presenting public art and supporting local, national, and international artists at the hotel and in its surrounding community. In addition to curating a diverse, rotating selection of artwork throughout the property, Jigarjan ideates cultural art programming and projects that bring public art to the Rockaways’ urban beach landscape. Past projects include Shantell Martin’s October 2020 Big Yard Mural at Seaside Playground on the corner of Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Beach 109th Street and the virtual public art installation Liberty Bell by Nancy Baker Cahill, presented by Art Production Fund. The lobby and ground level of the hotel also feature works from Tom Sachs, Derrick Adams, Zoe Buckman, Hannah Whitaker, and Kennedy Yanko. Please visit
www.therockawayhotel.com/happenings for updated information about the hotel’s collection, public programs, and events.
The mural is made possible with support from the 7G Foundation and Facebook Open Arts. It is presented in collaboration with the lens-based art incubator Baxter St at CCNY, one of the oldest artist-run nonprofits in New York City. Baxter St hosted Forde’s first solo exhibition, Dense Lightness, curated by Anna Harsanyi, which explored the epic poetry, ecology, and folk traditions in works including He Who Saw The Deep (2017), currently on view in the Rockaway Hotel. The Fabulous Plant of Rejuvenation was unveiled at Baxter St on the Rock, the organization’s annual fundraiser, held at the Rockaway Hotel on June 18.
About Ivan Forde
Ivan Forde (b. 1990) works across printmaking, photography, sound performance, and installation. Using a wide variety of photo-based and print-making processes (and more recently music and performance), Ivan Forde retells stories from epic poetry casting himself as every character to reflect on migration, memory, and homeland. His non-linear versions of these time-worn tales open the possibility of new archetypes and alternative endings. By crafting his own unique epic poems and inserting himself in historical narratives, he connects the personal to the global and offers a transformative view of prevailing narratives in diasporic cultures.
Ivan has been included in group exhibitions and performances at The Kitchen, The Jewish Museum, Syracuse University Palitz Gallery, MICA, MCA Chicago, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. He is the recipient of awards including the Baxter St 2020
Emerging Artist Award and is a 2017 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow for New Americans and a 2019 Civitella Ranieri visual arts fellow. Past residencies include the Lower East Side Printshop, Pioneer Works, Vermont Studio Center, and ACRE Projects Chicago. Ivan teaches at Columbia University and SUNY Purchase College. His works are included in the permanent collections of The Studio Museum In Harlem, Syracuse University Art Museum, and the Escalette Collection at Chapman University.