The Hart Island Project: Shades of America

Shades of America is a fine art series of ink paintings on landscape photographs. They are sketches of people buried on Hart Island, New York’s public cemetery. These landscape/portraits are drawn from photographs submitted by friends and relatives of those buried between 1980-2010 and who have been located in the Hart Island Project on-line database.

In 2008 and 2009, Melinda Hunt received two Canada Council Inter-Arts grants to build an on-line community database and produce portraits. In 2008, 58,000 burial records were acquired through Freedom of Information Law. Over a 3 year period, information from these records was entered into an on-line database by volunteers around the world. These records offer a rich source of creative material to produce portraits of people who are otherwise invisible.

Hart Island is the last undeveloped 101 acres in New York City. It is maintained within the city prison system. Young, male inmates perform the daily mass burials. Over the past decade, the burial process has become an increasingly isolated system of burials locked away from public oversight.

In order to visit Hart Island, relatives must prove their relationship to someone buried. Hospitals often fail to contact relatives. Death certificates list nothing when the place of burial is City Cemetery. The Hart Island Project database provides access to public records otherwise unavailable. The portraits offer an image of what it means to have so many people without healthcare over a 30 year period in America.

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