A Reflection on Designing Memory

Katherine Matuszek


Manhattanville College hosted its anticipated event, Designing Memory on Tuesday Apr. 17, 2018. With numerous attendees, the event can count as a success. This program was inspired by recent debates around the removal of Confederate statues, and how this discussion relates to definitions of space and memory. While extremely topical, this conversation specifically relates to Manhattanville’s Purchase campus’ history and its relationships to statues. So, with this goal in mind, was Designing Memory able to educate the public and influence future focuses of the College?

Featuring a walking tour, of Manhattanville landmarks, led by a performance caravan and a “Memory Museum” in Reid Castle featuring multimedia pieces, the event had many perspectives and points of access.

As many on campus might not know, the back of quad and other areas on campus were occupied by religious statues, gifts from other Orders of the Sacred Heart and created by famous sculptor, Joseph Sibbi. They were brought from the Convent Avenue campus and placed in Purchase, and remained until 2005, when they were unceremoniously removed and placed in the cemetery. It is upon inspection now, that the history and the consequences of the move had on identity of the College are being discussed. The event aimed, in-part, to help the college conclude on how we might rectify the relocation of the statues.

The performance caravan, which played a large role, was organized by junior John Bonelli and Professor Shawn Bible in the Dance & Theatre department.

“I came up with the idea of a big parade of sorts.  As the idea caught on with everyone else and developed later on down the line – due to logistics and limited time we had to scale down and turn it into a performance caravan involving dance and music,” said Bonelli regarding the creation of the caravan.

The trip began on the Castle steps where Professor Megan Cifarelli introduced the ideas of architectural environments that are tied to identity, while Professor Lisa Rafanelli introduced the aforementioned instance of memory erasure. The caravan, led by Bonelli and Bible, followed the path that the statues took to their new location, next stopping at the Barat House. Then, they arrived at the Lady Chapel where seven student dancers performed an homage to the space through dance.

The troupe then moved to the location of the statues in the Manhattanville College Cemetery, where Archivist, Lauren Ziarko, discussed the land before the college moved to Purchase and then its transition to a religious space, while Rafanelli discussed the statues in their resting place. The tour concluded in Reid Castle with a series of performances/monologues throughout the Castle by a group of student performers.

In the Castle there were opportunities for multiple multi-media experiences, like a tour which was aided by an app using augmented reality created by Professor Ellen Dedman and CAM students. There was also an archive showcase from Castle Scholars, and a panel on Reid Hall’s panel by Assistant Director of Alumni Relations, Michelle Pings-Gaines. Justin Capalbo, from the CAM department, and senior Tara Murphy created a photo series imagining the statues interacting with the current campus, while Michael Castaldo, also CAM faculty, created a film regarding the significance of the Jesus of the Sacred Heart statue.

“It reflected the College’s history in such a unique way, and I think if the event continues it will grow and become a tradition,” said Murphy.

Before planning the event, almost none of the students were aware of the significance of the statues. This new understanding is valuable in understanding issues of identity and what ties us to that as a community.

“It was an important example of why we sometimes need to stop and focus on something collectively, because it is very easy to get sucked into the time demands of our lives. It seems almost like we don’t have time to be a community, but if we don’t take the time to be a community, what’s the point?” said Cifarelli.

Following Coline Jenkins lecture, was a panel with, Tashae Smith ’17, Professor Colin Morris, Professor Cifarelli, Heather Krannich, and Jenkins. Krannich, the student body president, agreed with the choice that was made by moving the statues, but not in the way that it was swept away without discussion. Since learning about it, most students involved have been grappling with their understanding in how the statues can fit into our narratives again.

“I think at the end of the day most of us on campus would agree with the choice [to move the statues] that was made, but it definitely says something about how that statue is almost like a missing piece of our identity. Like instead of having a conversation about it as a community and being able to take that choice and be able to create a new piece of culture, it was just swept away by upper administration,” said Krannich.

With that in mind, we as a community must discuss any possible effort that the event inspired. As an institution that references its history as a part of it’s current identity, it is valuable to have the conversations that the event created.

“If anything is going to come of it, I think the students have the most important voice,” said Cifarelli.

We have to analyze the space in regard to our current audience on campus, to see what is fitting. The religious statues might now longer be appropriate, so what should go in their place thirteen years later? It is a loaded question, but what comes next?