On the long-abandoned walls and windows of Ellis Island’s Immigrant Hospital, artist JR is reinterpreting American history.
And with the support of Save Ellis Island (SEI) organization, the artist aims to keep the memory of Ellis Island alive and to encourage the public to join in on its historic preservation.
To create the installation, JR dove into the island’s archives, digging up images of doctors, nurses, and immigrant patients at the hospital, blowing them up to larger-than-life scale, and pasting them on various surfaces across the crumbling compound—the hospital was comprised of many buildings.
From broken windowpanes to peeling, whitewashed walls, young, bonneted children stare longingly while eager nurses crowd together with nervous expectancy. Through these ghostly group portraits, the haunting hospital’s framework is becomes a visual, visceral lesson in national history.
For the project, artist JR has worked almost entirely inside the hospital. The only outdoor piece appears on the back wall of a caged porch in the psychopathic disease ward. It is a blown up image of several patients getting fresh air in that very spot, taken quite a few decades ago.
“I’m not a big believer in ghosts, but I definitely felt something here,” JR told artnet News.
And do note this: when the facility opened in 1902, it was the country’s largest public health service hospital, but by the 1930s it was in decline. But, after serving as a Coast Guard base and a military detention center, the complex shut for good in 1954. And while the main part of the island was refurbished, converted into an immigration history museum that opened in 1990, the hospital has remained closed.