In America: Remember

Since November 2020, the Rituals in the Making research team has collaborated with Bethesda-based visual artist Suzanne Firstenberg on her public installations memorializing those who have died of COVID-19.

Footage from the In America: Remember installation. Credit: Richard Grinker

In America: How Could This Happen…

In fall 2020, thousands visited the installation “In America: How Could This Happen…,” located at the D.C. Armory, just two miles east of the U.S. Capitol. People traveled from across the country to see personalized flags for those who had died. With one flag planted for each life lost to the pandemic, the artwork at its height comprised over 256,000 flags. Shortly after Thanksgiving, the installation came down, but Firstenberg was determined to continue the work of memorializing COVID loss. She partnered with Dr. Sarah Wagner and a team of students and faculty from George Washington University and University of Maryland to create a digital version of the installation. Wagner and members of the Rituals in the Making research team continued to assist Firstenberg throughout 2021, as she prepared for her second, larger installation, In America: Remember.

Left: Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg with Dr. Sarah Wagner. Right: Aerial photos of “In America” installation in Washington D.C. Photo on left courtesy of Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg. Photos on the right by Bruce Guthrie.

In America: Remember

From September 17 to October 3, 2021, a sea of white flags covered the lawn just north of the Washington Monument on the National Mall. The installation, In America: Remember, was the largest public art project to visit the Mall since the AIDS quilt, stretching across 22 acres, 143 sections, and 3.8 miles of walking paths. The National Park Services estimates that approximate 1.2 million people visited the site during those three weeks.

In America: Remember on the National Mall

Photo by William Atkins / The George Washington University

Each day of the installation, Firstenberg updated the number of COVID deaths in the United States

Photo by William Atkins / The George Washington University

Of the more than 700,000 flags that marked the individual lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic, some 20,000 bore personal inscriptions memorializing family, friends, coworkers, classmates, and neighbors.

Flags dedicated to Nuvia M. Montes, Rev. Rafael R. Bonilla, Hugo O. Fuentes, Ralph Bianco, Eunice “La Sexy” Rodriguez, Ronald B. Rogers and Wendell Arthur Mudgett. Photos by Sarah Wagner

Members of the Rituals in the Making research team and student volunteers from George Washington University assisted Firstenberg in geolocating and photographing the personalized flags so that they would appear on the installation’s digital map.

The research team is now working with Firstenberg and partners at ESRI to create an open-access database of all the flag inscriptions.

GW students Victoria Ravel (left) and Helena Betancourt (right) geolocate and photographs flags with dedications

Photo by William Atkins / The George Washington University

GW professor Sarah Wagner works on geolocating flags

Photo by Richard Grinker