When Rachael Devaney got in trouble as a child, she’d have her books taken away as punishment. “I’ve always been a reader my entire life,” Devaney said. “All I wanted to do is read. I was such a nerd. The power of words always held my attention.”
She credited civil rights activist John Reed, co-founder of Zion Union Heritage Museum and the former truant officer at Barnstable High School, and author Mick Carlon, her high school English teacher, for nourishing this passion which eventually led to an internship at the Cape Cod Times.
That internship continued from high school through college – Devaney attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst, graduating with a double major in journalism, and social thought and political economy.
After college, she continued to harness the power of words as a writer, contributing to national magazines that included XXL and The Ave Magazine while living in New York City.
When she returned to the Cape in 2010, she kept honing her talents, both as a journalist and a photographer. Her work has appeared in a range of publications that have included The Barnstable Patriot, Cape Cod Life, Falmouth Magazine, and Southern New England Weddings Magazine.
Devaney takes pride in being a storyteller, something that “goes back to my ancestors and is in my bloodline,” she said.
Two years ago, Devaney was reunited with her birth family – she was adopted from El Salvador in 1978 – after being separated from them for 40 years.
Art with a Message
In 2019, Devaney turned that experience into a photojournalist project, “Matriarchal Strength: Stories of Indigenous Separation and Border Crossing”, which was displayed in both Bridgewater State University’s Maxwell Library as well as Zion Union Heritage Museum. The exhibit featured 11 portrait images of Devaney’s birth family, paired with shared stories that helped audiences make connections between South, Central, and North American Tribal communities and their struggles with family separation and immigration.
One year later, Devaney is in the midst of completing her second series that focuses on race, activism, and civil rights. It’s art with a message, shining a bright light on minority populations and their connection to this region. “Living on Native land, I think it’s important for people to know and understand that we have Black, Wampanoag and Cape Verdean youth here who have a lot to say,” Devaney said. “It’s important to understand that we are still here, our voices are relevant, and we are ready to make an impact now and moving forward in the future.”
Devaney’s project this year is on local civil rights activists who protested the violent death of George Floyd in May. She is blowing up a select group of life-sized photos of these activists; accompanying the photos will be a narrative detailing each person’s individual story, their experiences as a person of color on Cape Cod, and their motivation for protesting.
The project has been made possible through MassDevelopment’s Transformative Development Initiative. Devaney was one of three local artists chosen for a four-week residency that started in November.
Along with an artist stipend, Devaney has had access to The Studio on Center Street in Hyannis, which once served as a train maintenance building.
It has given Devaney the freedom and professional space to embark on a project that aligns with her creative vision. “When Rachael came here, she saw how much open area she has to work with and said, ‘I can do what I was hoping to do’ and create these full-sized portraits to display here,” said Mary-Ann Agresti, principal of The Design Initiative and owner of The Studio. “Where Rachael works at home, she doesn’t have the space to do something like this. This is an opportunity for these artists to do something they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do.”
The opportunity to tell these people’s stories isn’t lost on Devaney. “We live in a community that is 92 percent white and the Black voice is often drowned out and silenced and not acknowledged,” Devaney said. “This is a way to create a space for people of color which makes this project special.”
The project will also allow her to carry on her family’s tradition of storytelling using her images as the catalyst. “Everybody has a story. Everybody has something to say,” Devaney said. “The fact these people trusted me to tell their story is really special and really important. What I get out of it is that connection and passing these stories along and making sure people’s voices are heard.”
When finished, Rachael Devaney’s project will be viewable to the public at The Studio at 68 Center Street in Hyannis. To learn more about Devaney and see her work, visit www.rachaeldevaney.com.