Highlighting the Women Artists of Governors Island


Governors Island has been a hub for artists and the arts since it reopened to the public in 2005, allowing visitors to engage with many artistic mediums including visual art, written word, live performance and more. In the Island’s rich history of artistic pursuits, women have often led the way, curating, creating, and presenting art and exhibitions on Governors Island every year, many as part of our community of arts and culture programming partner organizations. In honor of Women’s History Month, learn more about a few of the women who have created commissioned artworks for Governors Island and whose works have been presented at dedicated exhibitions on our shore.

Rachel Whiteread

Cabin by Rachel Whiteread. Photo by Julienne Schaer

Rachel Whiteread, an English artist who works primarily in sculpture, is the first woman to win the prestigious Turner Prize, an annual award presented to British visual artists. Her work often uses concrete casts to explore positive and negative space and our relationships with objects and settings.

Cabin by Rachel Whiteread. Photo by Timothy Schenck

One of the Trust for Governors Island’s first commissioned works, her sculpture, Cabin, has been situated on Discovery Hill since 2016, being placed there during the construction of The Hills. Tucked into the lush foliage at the end of a naturalistic pathway, Cabin provides a unique experience for visitors to interact up-close with public art. This concrete cast of the interior of a simple cabin creates a sense of contemplative quiet, contrasting with the bustle of the city visible across the water.

Susan Philipsz

Speakers for Day is Done by Susan Philipsz installed on the exterior of Liggett Hall. Photo by Timothy Schenck

Susan Philipsz, a Scottish artist and 2010 recipient of the Turner Prize, is best known for her sound-based installations and audio works. Many of her pieces consist of her own voice singing unaccompanied, though others explore a variety of audio sources and sounds.

Commissioned by the Trust for Governors Island, her 2013 piece Day is Done was a large-scale instrumental sound installation that played in two locations, from speakers installed near Liggett Terrace and Yankee Pier. The piece took the form of a ‘call and response’ version of the military bugle call, Taps, signifying the end of daytime and the beginning of evening, and paying homage to the Island’s history as a military base. Day is Done was played daily at 6pm, Governors Island’s closing time, and could be heard both on the Island and from ferries departing it.

Shantell Martin

Exterior of The May Room by Shantell Martin. Photo by Timothy Schenck

Shantell Martin (pictured in the header photo working on The May Room; photo by Timothy Schenck) is a New York-based artist who has created site-specific installations for venues across the world. Much of her work features her signature black and white line drawings, sometimes created in a stream-of-consciousness style at the site of installation.

Interior of The May Room by Shantell Martin. Photo by Julienne Schaer

For Governors Island’s 2019 season, the Trust commissioned Martin to create The May Room, incorporating both the exterior and interior of a deconsecrated former military chapel near the Island’s eastern shore. The May Room honors the structure’s past use by reinterpreting it into a modern site for reflection and contemplation. The May Room’s interior features labyrinthine forms on the floor that invite visitors to explore the space, as well as custom-built, movable furniture in the shapes of letters, allowing visitors to interact with the work.

Yto Barrada

Yto Barrada with guest artist Bettina: The Power of Two Suns. Photo by Brian J Green

Yto Barrada is a French-Moroccan multimedia artist whose work includes sculpture, prints, photography, film and more. In 2019, her exhibition The Power of Two Suns, presented with guest artist Bettina, was one of two inaugural exhibitions for the first season of LMCC’s newly renovated Arts Center at Governors Island.

Yto Barrada with guest artist Bettina: The Power of Two Suns. Photo by Ian Douglas

The Power of Two Suns explored themes of community, isolation, and disaster, featuring a large-scale installation by Barrada, a selection of sculptural pieces from Bettina’s remarkable body of work, and numerous two-dimensional works by both artists, including prints, drawings, photographs and photograms. The varied forms included in the exhibition invited visitors to explore the space and, in many cases, examine the works from multiple angles, encouraging a dynamic viewing experience for the pieces and the Arts Center’s gallery space.

Kameelah Janan Rasheed

A Supple Perimeter by Kameelah Janan Rasheed. Photo by Ornella Friggit

Kameelah Janan Rasheed is a writer, artist and educator whose works often combine photography and collage with written components to create immersive, text-based installations exploring themes of race, memory, history, ritual, and archival practices.

If/Then and Questions by Kameelah Janan Rasheed. Photo by Ornella Friggit

In 2017, LMCC presented an exhibition of Rasheed’s work titled A Supple Perimeter as part of their annual River to River festival. A Supply Perimeter featured a variety of works displayed in Building 110, including prints, poems, and projections, often manipulated as though by photocopier. Rasheed’s written works If/Then and Questions were displayed on the marquee and façade of the historic Fort Jay Theater near Yankee Pier, with messages rotating biweekly, inviting visitors to engage with the pieces as they changed over the course of the season.