Brooklyn street artist Swoon takes over the Brooklyn Museum with dreamy Submerged Motherlands installation.

arts swoon submerged motherlands

I first encountered Swoon was when I was living in Clinton Hill. Her street art was hidden in small corners of the neighborhood, turning my many walks home into a scavenger hunt of sorts. By the time she and I shared an alma mater, she was already half way around the world, sailing the very rafts that have now washed up in the Brooklyn Museum. Her newest exhibit, Submerged Motherlands, is a multimedia, site-specific installation that combines her intricate paper cutting and wheat paste graffiti style with an arrangement of structures, including two rafts that she sailed all over the U.S and across the Adriatic Sea.

Submerged Motherlands was partially inspired by growing social anxiety over climate change. As a reaction to Hurricane Sandy, this exhibit creates a dreamscape in which cities must be waterborne, buoyed within swollen waterways. Doggerland, a giant landmass that fell off of Great Britain 8,000 years ago after a tsunami, was also a source of inspiration for this exhibit. The two rafts center around a towering 70 foot tree – the only relic of dry land. Composed of long ribbons of hand dyed fabric, the tree also echoes the aquatic theme of Swoon’s exhibit as the bark looks more like waterfalls and swirling pools than rugged wood. Lacey shadows are cast along the walls from the paper leaves adorning this tree, making it not only the central figure of the installation, but the collision point for the various rugged and delicate elements found around the room.

lifestyle swoon submerged motherlands mothers

Many of Swoon’s portraits throughout the years have been of family and friends and people who have generally been important to her. This project is no exception. Within the installation, Swoon built a gazebo that visitors can enter and sit inside of. On the top of the gazebo is a large portrait of a friend of Swoon’s with her new baby. Repeated on all four walls of the gazebo’s exterior is a portrait of Swoon’s mother in the various stages of her lifecycle. Inside the gazebo, delicate paper cut outs and cardboard assemblages make the space feel like the interior of a beehive. I read this as a metaphor for the creative and productive powers of maternal care – that the gifts and sacrifices of motherhood are the hive from which ingenuity is birthed. As Swoon reminds us via a video interview at the installation’s entrance, the themes of her work are very much so open to, and rely on individual interpretation.

art swoon submerged motherlands hive

As previously mentioned, before landing on the 5th floor of the Brooklyn Museum, the two rafts featured in Submerged Motherlands were working vessels sailed by Swoon and various activist collectives. Crashing the prestigious Venice Biennale  in 2009, Swoon’s junk ship, Alice, hosted performance artists and anarchists who turned the ship into a living, traveling cultural center. Alice was constructed out of garbage from NYC and sailed from Slovenia to Venice.