This is a second in an occasional series by visiting Galveston Artist Residency curator Leslie Moody Castro about her observations of the island and its art scene.
On the night of Sept. 2, the world watched the complete obliteration of the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janiero via social media. The building itself was constructed during the Portuguese occupation of Brazil, housed the royal family during the time of the country’s colonization, and was converted to a public museum in 1922.
It housed more than 287,000 objects in its permanent collection, including the oldest surviving human remains. In one night, hundreds of years of documented history became kindling for a fire that raged through the building, and the result was the loss of thousands of years of documented Brazilian history.
It was not simply the loss of a museum that devastated intellectuals across the globe — including scientists and medical doctors who studied with the collection— but the loss of the objects that told the story of the cultural memory of a place. Essentially, that memory was wiped clean.
The arts and culture of a place is not simply defined by who produces it, but also by the stories that make up the collective identity. The institutions that house our culture are not only protecting artifacts, they also exist as buildings that tell stories, in places that define them. Going to a museum is not just about seeing the things in a building, but also about analyzing the history of the building itself, then placing it in context with everything around it.
Galveston is full of stories, and its history has been defined and redefined by the natural disasters that have left their mark on the island. Every time one of these disasters leaves its mark, new stories of survival are constructed around the disaster, and the repairs go hand in hand with healing.
In Galveston, the culture is not just in the places that house its art or history; here, that culture exists on every block of the city. A walk down the seawall is also a memory of the worst natural disaster in United States history and the subsequent mechanisms put in place to protect the island.
Enjoying a drink on The Strand is to enjoy the architecture that laid the foundation of grandeur for the island in its 19th-century inception.
In Galveston, reading culture is to pay attention to the nooks and crannies — to “read” the space. Galveston was an architectural marvel and built to rival the order, organization and technological innovation of any city. I consider this island a museum, I hear its ghost stories, its storm stories and understand they have shaped the history and culture of this island as much as growth, rebirth and even tourism.
In Galveston, I have learned, once again, to evaluate the space I embody. To think about its history and how it affects me. It makes existing in a place exciting, and the choreography of movement through history that has been constructed and reconstructed continues to deepen that curiosity.