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Collecting water in Amsterdam.

Poem for Yemanjá (detail). 1988.


Poem for Yemanjá.

Poem for Yemanjá began as a collection of waters from around the world that I gathered or that friends would bring back from fascinating adventures, such as a friend who trekked to the source of the Niger River, only to be arrested (but was soon released). This sculptural Poem was requested for “Imaging the River,” an exhibition at the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, New York in 2004. After the show ended, the curatorial staff wanted to keep the sculpture for the museum’s permanent collection and it remained there for a year. But an idea began to gnaw at me. With so many bottles, jars and vials of water, I grew concerned about the physicality of containment. Penned-up water is no longer alive. Each bottle had been sealed, taking away its ability to breathe. The liquid could no longer flow freely and was therefore essentially dead.


I asked that the sculpture be returned to me, so that the containers of water on the seven shelves would not languish in a storage vault or on a museum wall. A month later an enormous wooden crate arrived at my studio. It was time for deconstruction to occur and a second phase of the work, which I had not initially foreseen, became inevitable.


Slowly, I began to realize that, at some point, all of these waters would have to be released, so the returning process began. Friends around the world are dispersing the waters from this Poem, not to the exact location where they had originally been scooped out, but the contents of each container will join some other body of water. The Nile River water would have to settle for joining the Yangtze River, and the Amazon River might be poured into the Dead Sea. This would at least allow each H2O molecule to rejoin the vast hydrologic cycle. Participants are advised to boil the water, thereby removing any possible pollutants, and also releasing some of the moisture into the atmosphere as steam.

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Sleet from Copenhagen released into Lancaster Sound, Nunavut (Canadian Arctic).

Dispersing water from Saudia Arabia into meltwater, Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, Alaska.

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A container with water from Peru is emptied into the Danube, Belgrade, Serbia.

Water from Kansas being poured into the Atlantic Ocean.

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