Hudson River Park Pulse Memorial Highlights ‘Inner Light’

Part of the memorial includes a path lined by fractured boulders, some with glass inserted into the fissures. One split-open boulder has a poem engraved on its inner edges. | Photo by Gabe Herman

BY GABE HERMAN | On the day of the Pride March, June 24, a new memorial was unveiled in Hudson River Park to the 49 victims of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting two years ago.

The work consists of nine boulders in a roughly circular arrangement on a patch of lawn in the park near W. 12th St. It was designed by Brooklyn artist Anthony Goicolea, 47, and is about a block away from an AIDS memorial in the park near Bank St. that was dedicated nearly 10 years ago.

In the first week after the new memorial’s dedication, however, there seemed to be little in the way of visitors or awareness of its existence among nearby parkgoers. Though it admittedly was in the middle of a heat wave and there were park maintenance barriers that closed off access to parts of it.

Several of the boulders have been split in the middle and filled with glass. Another is split apart and has an inscription by poet and activist Audre Lorde that reads on one side, “Without community there is no liberation… But community must not mean a shedding of our differences,” and on the other, “Difference is that raw and powerful connection from which our personal power is forged.”

This writing inside one of the boulders, which the artist described at the unveiling as “the inner voice for the memorial,” is the piece’s only visible writing.

Much of the memorial had been temporarily blocked off for new lawn seeding, according to a parks worker.

A series of metal barricades closed off the nearby lawns, which contain five of the boulders, and also made a narrow path leading to the central part of the memorial (the barricades were removed on July 10). Both weekday and weekend visits by this reporter in the first week the memorial was open to the public found no other visitors, or even people wandering up to see what it was.

When its presence was pointed out to one parkgoer nearby, he said he had not been aware of it at all.

Another man, Miguel Angel, was also just learning of the memorial.

“It’s wonderful, I love it,” said Angel, who was visiting from Guadalajara, Mexico. “For the gay community, it’s good,” he added, saying he liked the “recognition from New York.” He also liked the memorial’s “natural” design, saying it blended in with the surrounding park and nature.

The memorial has gotten some negative comments on Twitter, though, mostly related to the amount of money spent on it, with posts such as, “How much did this cost me?” and “More taxpayer money spent wisely.”

According to an April 2017 report by our sister publication, Gay City News, Governor Andrew Cuomo had designated $1 million in his state budget for the memorial. But that funding was blocked by state Senate Republicans. State Senator Brad Hoylman, who represents the Village and most of Hudson River Park, tried to pass the funding as an amendment, but was denied. Governor Cuomo ultimately was able to add the money back into the budget.

The prismatic glass filling the gaps in the split-open boulders represents an inner beauty. | Photo by Gabe Herman

As the memorial was unveiled, Hoylman issued a statement thanking Cuomo for his efforts in helping make it happen, and added, “This memorial will serve to stand the test of time and forever memorialize the LGBT lives that have been lost to senseless violence and hate.”

In a statement to our sister publication, The Villager (where this article first appeared), Hoylman called the blocking of the funds by Senate Republicans a “travesty,” and added, “The reason they did it is because of their ongoing refusal to consider LGBT issues.”

Of the memorial and artist Goicolea, Hoylman said, “I think Anthony did a wonderful job. It’s serene, understated and blends in with the natural environment… And also powerful when you read the inscription.”

Hoylman did not know if there were plans to add a plaque or description of the piece anywhere, and added, “I appreciate the way it is.”

Aside from funding issues, some on Twitter expressed confusion about the memorial’s design. Several such posts were responded to with explanations by Eunic Ortiz, president of the Stonewall Democrats political club, who was selected as part of a commission to oversee the memorial’s creation.

“WTF is this!?” wrote one person. “Boulders with a paint strip?” Ortiz replied, “The artist’s vision was that light shines through the boulders, casting rainbow prisms around it. Meaning, our community’s light can shine through anything. The Audre Lorde quote sits between the largest [boulder]. It also points toward the Christopher St. Pier and Statue of Liberty.” The questioner replied, “Thanks for the response.”

Another commenter questioned whether it was a good use of Governor Cuomo’s time to spend it on “rocks with paint on them.” After Ortiz again explained the memorial’s concept, the person replied, “Thank you!”

Ortiz is the communications director of the labor union SEIU Florida.

“As someone who is originally from Orlando, Florida, and is of Latinx background, this memorial held a unique meaning for me,” Ortiz told The Villager.

“The [unveiling] ceremony was extremely moving and I am very proud to have been a part of this project,” Ortiz said. “The meaning behind the work, put simply, when you view it, that is out of such dark and hard times, light shines through.”

The June 24 unveiling included Cuomo, Hoylman, Council Speaker Corey Johnson and other local officials. At the event, Goicolea spoke of growing up an outsider in Marietta, Georgia, as gay, Catholic and Cuban-American. He said he found a real sense of community in the West Village when he moved to New York in the early 1990s.

“The LGBTQ memorial tried to create a new safe space, a new safe haven,” the artist explained. “It encourages people to look beyond the exterior of what they’re presented with to something inside that’s more beautiful.”

The artist said the circle of boulders is meant to express a safe place where people can come and rest on them.

“In this political climate,” Goicolea added, “it is important to have reminders that diversity is what makes America great.”

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