‘Arts At Oakland’ Showcases The Cemetery As An Outdoor Gallery

Arts at Oakland 2021 examines communal grief, tradition, and a space for remembrance.

Arts at Oakland 2021” is a free, self-guided exhibition at Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery. It will showcase the work of six regional artists and explore hidden histories among the gardens and architecture of the city’s oldest public greenspace. “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes spoke with special events and volunteer manager Mary Margaret Fernandez, and featured artist Winnie Duong, about the exhibition’s themes of communal grief, remembrance, and tradition.

Interview highlights:

Honoring hidden stories through art

“Two of our installations, one by Bianca Walker and one by Dorothy O’Connor and Zipporah Thompson… engage a great deal with unmarked burials within the historic Black burial grounds of Oakland,” said Fernandez. “They give an identity, almost, to these people for whom it would be very easy to forget their lives.”

“It’s very easy in Oakland, to forget that you’re surrounded by 70,000 people. It’s so beautiful, and it’s such a peaceful respite in the city,” said Fernandez. “Creating an opportunity for people to pause and reflect upon that, I think, is very special.”

Winnie Duong’s inspiration for her “mausoleum” piece

“I chose my space specifically because [my work] was surrounding mausoleums… There’s such grand structures, that are also grand gestures, to memorialize people that are important or have great wealth,” said Duong. “And having neither, I always wonder what’s in there? Can I go in, can I hang out? Can I have one?”

“I’m stripping it down and making it viewable in multiple ways,” described Duong. “I’m using eyeholes, opening literal doors, having windows… imagining just ripping off the roof.”

Artist Winnie Duong is one of the six artists whose work is featured in the “Arts at Oakland” exhibit. (Courtesy of Winnie Duong)

On more joyful cultural traditions of remembrance

“During the past two years, I’ve been missing this holiday called ‘Tomb-Sweeping,’” said Duong. “In my culture and background, which is Chinese, death is not a sad event. We do celebrate life and death… by burning money, which is called ‘hell money,’ if you read the fine print.” She continued, “My family in particular likes to say that they’re burning money for my grandma and grandpa who love to play Mahjong and gamble.”

“My family loves to bring a whole butcher block and roast pork… along with maybe a bottle of vodka, and tea, and we burn so much paper which symbolizes money, and things that represent goods and items and money, and just currency for the afterlife. And after everything is burned, said and done, and we wrap up tomb-sweeping, we devour all the offerings ourselves,” said Duong.

“Arts at Oakland 2021” will be on view from May 21 – 31. An online map with information about each of the artists can be found here. All are welcome to explore from dusk to dawn, free of charge, but guided weekend tours are available with ticket purchase at oaklandcemetery.com.