Hart Island is one of the city’s most beautiful and mysterious places. It serves as New York City’s public burial ground, with about a million souls laid to rest there. Unforgotten Films, led by Untapped Cities’ artist in residence Aaron Asis, which previously released videos on the New York Pavilion from the World’s Fair and Fort Totten, has just dropped the latest videon on Hart Island. The video series highlights not only the history, but often the complexity of a forgotten location in New York City — whether it is about raising awareness of its existence or about the difficulty of gaining access. The videos bring together a wide variety of stakeholders to tell the story, from government officials to artists to activists.
Melinda Hunt, from the Hart Island Project, has been lobbying for greater access to Hart Island since 1991 at the peak of the AIDS epidemic (the first child to die of AIDS is buried on this island as well as many unknown victims). Asis tells us that Melinda “has been central to all of this.” Artist Freya Powell is a visual artist whose contribution to the video is from the perspective of someone who has never stepped foot on Hart Island, an experience similar to most New Yorkers.
Another key person interviewed in the film is Moses Gates, an urban planner at the Regional Plan Association, who has been a key player in opening up dialogue on New York City council about Hart Island and other NYC Parks properties over the years. In fact, a public hearing took place in May to discuss the bill proposed by Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez to transfer Hart Island from Department of Corrections jurisdiction to NYC Parks, which will be subject to an upcoming vote. Council Speaker Corey Johnson provided a statement to Unforgotten Films along with the City Council webpage about Hart Island:
“The restoration of Hart Island is a step in the right direction. The way we remember people says a lot about who we are as a City, and it’s painfully clear that the people who have been laid to rest at Hart Island deserve so much better. We have an obligation to make Hart Island better, and I am committed to getting us there as a city.”