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Photo by Timothy Schenck. Pictured mask: Norbu

Paola Pivi

You know who I am

April 2022 – March 2023
Location

On the High Line at 16th Street

Paola Pivi’s interdisciplinary artistic practice combines the familiar with the bizarre. She is known for transposing live animals and common objects—ranging from helicopters to cappuccinos—to unexpected settings. Some of her best-known striking tableaux include Untitled (zebras), two zebras standing on a snowy mountain—shown on the High Line Billboard in 2012—as well as 84 goldfish flying coach, and a gallery filled with frolicking feathered polar bears in highlighter-bright hues. In all her work, Pivi uses strategies of displacement and overabundance to disorient and shift viewers’ expectations of rules, categories, and boundaries. Her parallel universes offer opportunities to shift points of view on divisions we take for granted.

You know who I am is a large-scale cast bronze replica of the Statue of Liberty wearing various cartoonish masks. The masks are stylized portraits of individuals whose personal experiences of freedom are directly connected to the United States. The masks will change every two months, representing six different people over the course of the exhibition. The work stands twenty-three feet above the High Line on the Northern Spur Preserve. From this vantage, visitors can also see the original Lady Liberty to the south in New York Harbor. Pivi’s replica was manufactured at Fonderia Artistica Battaglia, a bronze casting foundry established in Milan in 1913. This replica follows a direct line to the original sculpture by Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi. To create a scale replica, Pivi worked from a historic plaster cast of the original bronze model created by Bartholdi himself, which is now on view at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

The six emoji-inspired masks are playful and colorful, contrasting the streamlined, lighthearted portraiture of personalized digital cartoons with the staid monumentality of the statue. Each mask represents an individual whose experience of freedom is connected to the United States, offering the sentiment that anyone could be represented within the symbol of the statue. For this commission, Pivi, an Italian artist who has lived in Alaska since 2006, was inspired by her family’s experience. Pivi’s son had been living stateless in India when he adopted Pivi and her husband. The three of them endured a four-year legal battle in India to bring the boy home, a journey that concluded with her son gaining a pathway to citizenship in the US. During this struggle, the Statue of Liberty became an invaluable beacon for Pivi’s son, a symbol of the human rights and freedom that could be possible for him in the US.

For You know who I am, Pivi expands on her family’s experience, depicting in the masks five additional individuals whose freedom has been connected to the US, and inviting them to share their own stories. For some, their story may be about having gained or hoping to gain greater freedoms upon entering the US; for others, the US may represent a denied dream of freedom. Stories from the six people pictured, beginning with Pivi’s son, will be available for visitors on the High Line’s website. You know who I am engages conversations about legal and symbolic freedoms available in the US, and how these freedoms are sought by people living around the world. In Pivi’s engagement with this subject matter, the artist also considers the US’s limitations on freedom.

Paola Pivi, You know who I am is organized by Cecilia Alemani, Donald R. Mullen Director & Chief Curator of High Line Art and Melanie Kress, High Line Art Associate Curator.

Learn more about the person featured in the sculpture

Marco Saavedra is an artist, poet, restaurateur, longtime immigrant rights activist, and community organizer based in the South Bronx, New York. Marco and his family are undocumented immigrants who run a beloved neighborhood restaurant, La Morada, and have been on the frontlines of immigration justice and community activism for over a decade. He has been involved in several high-profile immigration actions and his 2021 political asylum case caught national attention. Most importantly, his case set a legal precedent for undocumented activists seeking refugee status in the US.

Marco was born to an Indigenous family in a small town named San Miguel Ahuehuetitlán near Oaxaca, Mexico, and brought to the US as a child. Marco and his family crossed the US-Mexico border in 1992 and settled in Washington Heights, a predominantly immigrant neighborhood. Marco’s parents worked several jobs including garment factory worker, high school janitor, gas station attendant, and food delivery person, until ultimately opening up a restaurant. After excelling in middle school, Marco was recommended for Prep for Prep, a nonprofit that aids in the education and school placement of promising students of color. In eighth grade, he was accepted to Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts. Marco eventually received a full scholarship to Kenyon College in Ohio.

Unable to spend a semester abroad during his junior year due to his undocumented status, Marco enrolled at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, where he joined a group of immigration activists known as “Dreamers.” They took their name from the DREAM Act, an as-yet-unpassed bill that would grant conditional permanent residency to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the US as minors, have stayed for at least five years, graduated from high school, and have no criminal record. After graduation, he started organizing full time for the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), a grassroots group of mostly undocumented students fighting for immigrant rights.

In 2012, as part of the NIYA, he turned himself in to immigration authorities in order to provide direct support to detained migrants at the Broward Transitional Center in Deerfield Beach, Florida. While in the detention center, he spoke with hundreds of “low-priority” detainees and encouraged them to call the NIYA hotline, where they could receive legal advice on their specific cases. All detainees existed in official limbo. After continued organizing and even a hunger strike, Marco’s infiltration made national news. After 23 days, Marco was released, out of concern that the center would receive bad attention from the press, but not before initiating his deportation proceedings.

In 2014, he self-deported to Mexico with two other young undocumented activists. From the Mexico side of the border, the activists approached border officials in the US and demanded to be let in and granted asylum. This action was in solidarity with those who were already deported or outside of the US and would have benefited from President Obama’s 2012 executive action that granted protection to eligible immigrants who came to the US when they were children from deportation, referred to as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). They were wearing their graduation caps and gowns—a uniform that had become the unofficial symbol of the Dreamer movement. This action was heavily reported on in the US media. Marco became the first of his peers of activists to be granted asylum in the US in 2021.

While Marco fought his asylum case and continued his activism, he also worked at his family’s restaurant, La Morada. In 2020, since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, La Morada has operated a mutual aid kitchen and provides free meals for hundreds of community members.

Marco is also an artist and a poet. Learn more about his art and poetry.

Artist bio

Paola Pivi (b. 1971, Milan, Italy) lives and works in Anchorage, Alaska. Recent solo exhibitions have been featured at institutions including Arken Museum of Modern Art, Ishøj, Denmark (2020); The Bass Museum, Miami Beach, Miami, Florida (2018); Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Georgia (2018); La Rinascente, Milan, Italy (2017); Dallas Contemporary, Dallas, Texas (2016); FRAC Bourgogne, Dijon, France (2014); National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia (2014); Witte de With, Rotterdam, Netherlands (2013); and Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai, China (2012). Public solo commissions include High Line Art, New York, New York (2012) and Public Art Fund, New York, New York (2012). Notable group exhibitions include Io dico Io – I say I, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome, Italy (2021); Trittico, Fondazione Prada, Milan, Italy (2016); and Senso Unico, MOMA PS1, New York, New York (2007). Major international exhibitions include the Yokohama Triennial, Japan (2018) and the 48th Venice Biennale, Italy (1999).


Support

Fonderia Artistica Battaglia aims to share their historical expertise in artistic bronze, initiating contemporary artists into the practice. You know who I am was Pivi’s first artwork cast in bronze; the team at Battaglia guided her throughout the fabrication process.

Paola Pivi, You know who I am, is made possible, in part, by an in-kind donation from Matteo Visconti, Fonderia Artistica Battaglia, Milan, and support from Perrotin and Massimo De Carlo; with thanks to the engineering firm Pro Iter, Milan.

The title You know who I am was conceived by Karma Culture Brothers.