In an extension of an art installation already in place on the exterior of Governors Island‘s military chapel, Our Lady Star of the Sea, artist Shantell Martin has transformed the entire interior of the church with her labyrinthine-like line drawings, lettering, and custom furniture. The exhibition, entitled The May Room, opens today at 11 AM, marking the first time the chapel has been open to the public in two decades. Yesterday, Untapped Cities got a sneak preview of the new exhibition which will be up until October 27th.

Our Lady Star of the Sea chapel was built around 1942, as a Catholic church when the Army base on Governors Island was expanding during World War II. Built in a vernacular style, the single-story wood church today has stained glass windows and American-style fake shutters. Shantell Martin and Meredith Johnson, Vice President of Art and Culture at the Trust for Governors Island, toured the island in search of a canvas that would best express Martin’s art. The chapel, the only all-white structure on Governors Island, was determined to be the best choice. “Sometimes the obvious answer is the best answer,” said Martin at the press opening. 

The May Room installation took two weeks of renovation, getting it polished up and refurbishing the floor. Although the exterior art on the chapel was done with black spray-paint, the inner walls were done with black Krink marker and the floor design is a custom-cut black vinyl, according to Chey Morales, who worked with Martin the project. Custom-made black furniture in the shape of letters spell out words. Martin completed her work in a few weekends. As a result of the delicate materials on the floor, you have to take your shoes off to enter the building. 

The main concept behind the whole art installation is to bring a flow of life into this “once-abandoned and static structure in the Island’s Historic District,” The Trust for Governors Island explains, “Shantell Martin’s drawings interrogate the role of artist and viewer. With a meditative process, her compositions embody her internal state and the impermanence of the world around her. Exploring themes such as intersectionality, identity and play, Martin is a cultural facilitator, forging new connections between fine art, education, design, philosophy and technology.”

In addition to the May Room installation, there will be a series of poetry readings on September 14th and September 28th, presented by the Poetry Society of America in partnership with national poetry organizations including Kundiman and CantoMundo. The first event will be a workshop on Latinx poets and poetry, the second supporting Asian American writers. Brett Fletcher Laurer, the Poetry Society of America Deputy Director, “The Poetry Society of America is thrilled to be working with the Trust for Governors Island to organize poetry readings within Shantell Martin’s installation. It makes perfect sense for this space, which was designed for contemplation and transformed by Martin’s meditative work, to be filled with poetry.” The interior of the chapel will be open to the public on weekends until October 27th.

Here are some additional photographs of the exterior work, entitled Chapel that opened at the beginning of the summer: