Slogans of camaraderie and encouragement blossomed across car windows and city halls directly after the 9/11 attacks. The nation stood as one for just a moment, grievously energized by tragedy as a great bear wakes from hibernation from the sound of a blasting gun.
Artists of all types, stripes and tendencies more than rose to the occasion with offerings, exhibits and concerts, again for just a brief moment.
Years later we are far more fractured and bitterly divided than before, particularly over matters inherent to 9/11, which is basically everything: politics, Western mores, religion, patriotism, pop culture, family and militarism.
But at least The National September 11 Memorial & Museum has finally opened at Ground Zero in a somewhat finished form last May. Will it offer the consolation and healing its designers intended? After acrimonious and intensely politicized debates, most are relieved for it just to exist.
Dwelling somewhat uneasily together in the great subterranean space are personal artifacts, vast, twisted bones of the original WTC building and respectfully edited videos. What isn’t first evident to the public is the enormous and varied digital repository of 9/11-related art.
I was surprised by the emotions welling up when I happily stumbled across The Artists Registry of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. This fascinating stash in every form of the arts imaginable is well worth the time of anyone interested in art, the 911 narrative or even history. You can visit the website by clicking here.
Contributors range from well known, professional artists to grieving aunts and brothers of victims. Opening their virtual doors to almost anyone was a wise and inclusive move on the part of the organizers, creating a true “people’s” exhibit. Herein lies diversity in all its glory, something constantly boasted but rarely achieved.
Virginia artist Michelle Erickson crafts exquisite ceramic artworks and offers an unusual take on Lady Liberty in the style of Delftware. Her version is armless, possibly crucified and greatly grieved, a cross beween Venus de Mileo and some Pieta.
Beyond the variation of style and ability is the difference in sentiment. Here, unlike the formal official exhibit, many art responders are openly patriotic and religious. Although a few critics objected to the slightest shadow of Christian content, victims were overwhelmingly Christian, as their last words, prayers and chaplains attest. To say otherwise is yet another dig at their death.
Here Texan Mark Keathley offers a Kincaid-like piece on George Washington, related to the original church at the site. In “Praying for America” he admiringly notes that the king of England claimed Washington as “the greatest man on the earth.” at the time.
In an interesting twist, Ukrainian artists quickly offered works including several by Sergiy Druziaka and Sergiy Litvinov, who noted the tendency forth the world to think, “Someone else’s trouble does not exist.”
They prophetically warned, “All of us even more often should reflect not only on the blessings of a civilization, and also about the further life on a planet.”
In their “Black September,” a simple, stylized Statue of Liberty is falling, disoriented with huge, threatening fish swimming by. Things clearly aren’t as they should be. American artists would return the favor over the last two years.
Khaled Salem of Salt Lake City made one of virtually hundreds with an angel theme. Quickly done with emotion and little detail, thousands of such paintings were born in the aftermath of 9/11.
Some very creative pieces are offered by Denise Bankuti, a California artist. A 3-D sculptural piece eulogizes a New York City fireman’s last view as he sees another fireman “carrying the body of Father Judge, who lost his life while administering last rites to others.”
Is it wrong to say Bankuti’s “We Will Never Forget” is “delightful,” considering it’s in memoriam? But it just is. Made of 66 painters’ masks, strung and painted into an American flag, it’s one of the most creative things I’ve seem come from this. The upper half of the piece hosts miniature painted scenes of the day’s chaos and tragedy for each day of September. The red masks sport protruding tongues of fire.
Bankuti was refreshingly appreciative over the troops and even (gasp!) George Bush at the time.
She explained her feelings then: “I felt a great responsibility as an American artist to document the events of 9/11. When our president said we all have to go on and continue as Americans, I went to work immediately. My work is not a political statement but a statement on humanity and how this country pulls together at its time of need. Racial barriers gone if only for a moment.”
Jeanine Alfieri leaves a highly sculptural and tactile version of the U.S. flag shortly after the attacks in “God Bless America”: “Like many artists I felt the need to express my feelings about that tragic day. This piece represents the overwhelming sadness and collective sorrow felt by the entire world and at the same time conveys the strength, unity and love I could sense from every human being.”
Incidentally close to a dozen other artworks and songs in the collection use the title “we will never forget” or some variation, such as Larry Raymer’s “We Love America.”
Poetry, dramatic pieces, operas, videos and readings appear by link on the site.
See “Performing Tribute” by Donna Kaz, a “theatrical presentation that weaves together the perspectives of up to nine individuals who were separately yet directly impacted by the events of 9/11.”
Ethereal and poignant, singer/songwriter Mary Fahl sings “Dawning of the Day,” re-writing the the lyrics of this old Celtic ballad (300 years) to tell the story of the firefighters who lost their lives on 9/11.
Noting that over 15 million people from around the world have visited the 9/11 memorial since it opened, the opportunity is still open to leave your thoughts in artistic form. Although they don’t mention it on their site, I’m certain they have minimal standards. I didn’t see anything disrespectful, pornographic or that would be likely to offend survivors or too controversial (there were a few demonic Bin Ladens – not many).
Several reviewers have noted similarities between the 9/11 Memorial and the U.S. Holocaust Museum – the melancholy, endlessly funereal and almost unbearably grief-stricken tone. They thought it was a bit much.
But still people deny the death of six million Jews in the face of all evidence. There must be a need for redundancy, drama and endless repetition to counter the eternal prevarication some of tragically stricken with.
As evidence I offer an ironic twist. Less than three months after the 9/11 Museum opening, ArtRage Gallery in Syracuse New York hosted the film “9/11: Explosive Evidence – Experts Speak Out.” Well, they’re “speaking out,” but I doubt they’re “experts” on anything but revisionary science and history.
In this 9/11 “truther” drivel, filmmakers try to convince local residents that the World Trade Center disaster was an inside job – or Bush did it.
I can guarantee, if you are a citizen of the U.S. and old enough to personally remember 9/11 – something on the 9/11 Artists’ Registry will move you.
“No day shall ease you from the memory of time” is inscribed boldly in the Museum. Their Artists Registry is a great way to see that they remain so.