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Native American Veterans Memorial: Seen through a Sculptor’s Eyes

when we were refraining from all activities due to a pandemic, the National Native American Veterans Memorial was built in Washington, DC. The newest memorial in DC is located right next to the National Museum of the American Indian. The place I visited was surrounded by trees and located along a small pond, so it could play a role as a space for a quiet rest in a busy city. In particular, at a time when various social issues such as racial conflict were rising in the United States, this quiet memorial became a space for me to rethink the meaning of Americans for a moment.
I often used the phrase "America is the country of immigrants" freely in describing my work on American diversity. Behind the scenes, starting from being an immigrant from Korea, reflecting my noble (?) hope for reconciliation and respect for the diversity of numerous immigrants, it seems that I did not hesitate to say this. But today I found a fatal error in my understanding of America. I shift my mind back to “America is the country of Native Americans and immigrants,” and take a tour with respect to this memorial commemorating the indigenous people of the United States who are quiet, but more than anyone else, who are doing their job.
The National Native American Veterans Memorial was created with the principle to commemorate Native American veterans, recognize the sacrifices of their families, and create a blessed and healed space for all who visit. The memorial hall was designed by Harvey Pratt, a multimedia artist who won the 2018 international competition. Harvey Pratt is a U.S. Marine, a veteran of the Vietnam War, and a Native American - a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma. He said that while searching for the location of the memorial hall, a hawk suddenly appeared in the air and stayed for a long time in a tree located in a place that would become the site of the memorial hall. (His great-grandfather's Indian name is “Red Tail Hawk” and he says the appearance of the hawk was the ancestors' appearance to bless this project.)
The memorial hall, which can be seen in anecdotes of the location selection, was designed in close connection with the Indigenous beliefs of Native Americans. The memorial is surrounded by trees and water. We walk along a narrow, winding path called "Path of life" from its entrance, and the rusty railings on the side of the water are impressive. Considering the construction of the memorial hall is less than a year old, the appearance of the oxidized railing makes us consider whether it intentionally reflects the natural passage of time. The center of the memorial hall is a 12-foot stainless steel circular structure installed at right angles on a cylindrical stone drum. The circumference is carved with a ripple pattern, and water flows out of the center, circulating throughout the drum. In the inside of the large circular structure, there is fire which can be lit during special events. Regarding this archetype, Pratt says that this shape symbolizes nature such as the moon and the sun, and symbolizes the cycle of life and seasons. In addition, this circular empty space is a passage leading to the sky, and all elements of nature such as water, fire, earth, and air are incorporated into his design.
There is another circular space surrounding this vertical circular structure. There are walls made of stone, and the inside is the form of a bench to sit on, and on the outside, there is a space for walking around the structure. On the four sides of this wall, there are large lancers which are prayer poles, whose ends are cast in the shape of feathers. Each one is decorated with white, red, yellow, and black fabrics. This prayer pole induces the participation of visitors, who write their prayers on a long cloth and hang them on each prayer rod, and the natives believe that these prayer strings are blown through the wind and their wishes are delivered to heaven. In addition, in the forest of trees surrounding the monument structure, recorded songs of various native tribes are played, and the sound, which is like a repeated incantation, makes you feel that you are in a ritual. This space, in which you can experience spiritual moments, is reminiscent of Korean shaman rituals such as Seo-Nang-Dang, Sott-Dae, and Gut, which are very similar in shape and role.
 (Seo-Nang-Dang is a shrine tree for village guardian. It is located at the entrance of a town and decorated with five-colored strings which resonate the neighborhood prayers for good luck and good fortune. Sott-Dae is a tall pole decorated with the shape of a bird like a duck as a medium connecting the sky and the world. Gut is a shaman ritual performance including music and dance.)
In addition to this grand traditional interpretation, the memorial hall simply reminds us of our camping in nature, lighting a small bonfire, and sitting around it. In the warmth we share, have we all dissolved our fatigue, become closer to one another, and recovered? Pratt, who claimed that he is a dreamer, says ‘we are all different but all the same.’ Today I became a dreamer with the indigenous people here and dream that each of us, wounded in the small wars of the world, will take a break in this space of healing, understand each other, and blow our wishes into the sky together.

The Removed Monument Sculptures: Seen through a Sculptor’s Eyes

I had a startling experience in Richmond, Virginia on my visit to see Kehinde Wiley's new monumental sculpture "Rumors of War" in person. In the middle of an intersection where cars couldn't be stopped, I saw only its base – all that remains of the monument – while I was driving. It was the part of the monument to Stonewall Jackson, a Confederate general in the American Civil War. As reported by various news agencies, many Confederate-related monuments had been removed after the George Floyd incident as a result of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. I had seen numerous news reports of the moment when certain monuments were damaged and/or dragged down by an angry crowd, so it wasn't new to see only the pedestals of monuments remaining. However, it was quite shocking to actually confront these realities when seeing them in person – this feeling, which is difficult to describe in words, seemed similar to what viewers would have felt when they met Duchamp's toilet intentionally placed upside down under the title “Fountain” in the corner of the gallery.
Thomas Jonathon Jackson is a hero of the Confederacy, nicknamed “Stonewall,” after winning the attack by the Union that advanced to Richmond during the Civil War in July 1861. The monument of him riding his horse was cast in bronze and placed on a granite pedestal in 1919, then erected on Monument Avenue, which houses the monuments of other Confederate heroes such as Robert Lee, J. E. B. Stewart, and Jefferson Davis. With the spread of BLM protests in 2020, his sculptures are separated and removed by the city, but only the base that supported the Stonewall Jackson statue remains there.
As a sculptor, I want to pay attention to this left-behind pedestal. In the history of modern sculpture, there has been a shift in thinking that sculptures are no longer placed on the pedestal but come down to the floor, and also the pedestal becomes a sculpture that has meaning in itself. We know Duchamp's work which created the transition of values from an everyday ready-made object to protagonist art by turning the toilet upside down and exhibited in the gallery with the title “Fountain”. The reason why the Stonewall Jackson monument pedestal is reminiscent of Duchamp's Fountain is because this might give some ideas to solve recent debates regarding the demolition of some monumental sculptures.
I don’t think that you will disagree that we should have evaluated our historical figures with the right criteria such as “justice, freedom, human rights, etc.” once again and reposition them in our history. Monument sculptures continues to be a hot topic because it contains the concept of our historical standards of value, and so the demand for change continues. Among these, there are large debates about the issue of the removals of certain monuments - will they be removed or retained as an educational tool as part of our history? After seeing the videos of numerous protesters' violent destruction of monumental sculptures, I couldn't understand them at first and agreed that they should be left as part of a lesson in history. But watching a desperate interview of a black woman changed my mind. She talked about how heartbreaking it is for her and her family to go every day under the monuments of the racists who advocated slavery, taking their position with an example we can easily understand. For them, that monument is like setting up a Nazi symbol in the Jewish community. The moment I heard this story, I felt awakened. I haven't thought about it from the standpoint of those who have suffered. If these monuments should be left as a lesson in history, then whom is the lesson for? Shouldn't the first thing to consider be the group that was hurt and sacrificed? I was ashamed of myself, who couldn’t help to be a third party.
Monumental sculptures containing the wrong past must be removed. Whether it is the matter of formative language (for example, the monumental sculpture of President Lincoln at the D.C. Emancipation Memorial, an equestrian sculpture of President T. Roosevelt in front of the Museum of Natural History in New York, etc.) or the issue of the character him/herself, these memorial sculptures have no value as historical public symbols. Then, can the problem be solved simply by being removal and erasure? I'm still looking for answers to this part, but I think I've found at least two answers in Richmond, Virginia. One of them is to create a new monument sculpture that fits in a new history just like Kehinde Wiley's "Rumors of War". The other is to leave traces of history that have been removed. Stonewall Jackson's remaining pedestal is no longer a secondary role, but has become a monumental sculpture in itself with the traces of history which are the emptied space above and even protestors’ faded marks (almost like the artist's signature on Duchamp's urinal).
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a U.S. non-profit organization that provides legal assistance for victims of human rights issues, has published statistics on racism across the country. Since the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, more than 100 public symbols related to human rights violations have been removed. These public symbols are broader than one might think – government buildings, monuments and statues, plaques, schools, parks, counties, cities, military assets, streets, and highways – with monuments and memorial sculptures accounting for the most. On Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia where I visited today, 4 figures were removed in 2020 from their pedestals: the figure of J. E. B. Stewart mentioned in the previous article, Stonewall Jackson in the above, Jefferson Davis the former president of the Confederate Army, and Matthew Fontaine Maury, a famous oceanographer and another hero of the Confederacy. Figures disappeared, but the remaining monuments containing the emptied traces become new memorial sculptures.  These new memorial sculptures reveal the evaluation of history and stand with even stronger presence as a historical public symbol in each location.

The New Monumental Sculpture “Rumors of Wars”: Seen through a Sculptor’s Eyes

A familiar but unfamiliar monumental sculpture was installed in front of the Virginia Museum of Fine Art. Titled “Rumors of War,” this sculpture was made in 2019 by American Artist, Kehinde Wiley (1977-) and is also known as the largest commissioned work in the history of the Virginia Museum of Fine Art. Kehinde Wiley, who is well known for his portrait of President Barack Obama, is African-American and his work is modeled mainly on young black men like himself. He makes the scenes of traditional art history, especially the poses of portraits of historical figures representing status and authority, imitated by young black men, and then photographs or creates oil paintings of them. These characters are purposely created with colorful and decorative frames and backgrounds reminiscent of classic works from various cultures, and this subtle harmony of traditional styles and modern characters creates his unique visual language.
One of his paintings was also on display at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, where I visited to see the "Rumors of War". This work was created by replacing the portrait of Willem Van Heythuysen, a cloth merchant from Haarlem, Netherlands, in 1625 with a portrait of a young black man in Harlem, New York in 2006. The character in this work imitates the poses and attitudes of the original portrait as they are and was produced in a larger size than the real one. Unlike the thick gold frame and the background of colorful, decorative floral patterns that are often used in traditional portraits, the person in it wore Sean John streetwear and Timberland boots, which were trendy items in New York in 2006. This possibly awkward and unexpected combination could be found in Wiley's sculpture as well.
The “Rumors of War” sculpture has the appearance of a monumental sculpture that we are quite familiar with. The fact that the figures depicted realistically on the sturdy marble pedestal are cast in bronze is a form of expression of traditional monument sculptures that can be found in many places. Wiley's 27-foot tall 16-foot long sculpture was intentionally used in this style; cast in almost black, dark bronze statue is on top of a familiar trapezoidal stone pedestal. The person rides on a muscular horse and takes a heroic pose as if he were standing at the forefront of the war and heading for the goal. However, the person here is not the kind of war hero we might expect. The figure in this sculpture is like our young black friend we can meet while walking through the streets of Brooklyn or Harlem. The figure on the saddle is my friend who has dreadlocks – representing his heritage, who is wearing jeans torn at the knee – the kind we have in our closet, and high-top Nike sneakers – like many young men want.
Wiley says that the monumental sculptures of the Confederacy he saw in Richmond, where he visited for his exhibition in 2016, motivated this work. During the American Civil War, Richmond, Virginia, was the capital of the Confederacy. There are still the monuments of Confederate heroes who supported slavery on Monument Avenue in Richmond and we can easily imagine how Wiley would have felt while passing these memorials as an African American. Wiley reveals that among the numerous commemorative sculptures, the statue of Confederate Army General James Ewell Brown “J. E. B.” was used as an inspiration for the “Rumors of War” sculpture, and in fact these two sculptures are very similar except for the figures.
Wiley has used the title of this work by quoting the phrase "Rumors of War" in Matthew 24:6 of the Bible, where Jesus describes the time of disaster. I am still trying to figure out the meaning of this title whether he was trying to express the appearance of a new hero who leads in confusion and disaster ahead of the time of judgment, or whether he commemorates the war for the overthrow of the problem of narrow interpretation of race and values, which previous historical monuments have shown.
On September 27, 2019, this sculpture debuted at Times Square in New York, a place where various people from around the world gather, as if to mark the beginning of a new monumental sculpture history. After a few weeks of exhibition, on December 10, 2019, "Rumors of War" was moved to Richmond, Virginia, and permanently installed, where Wiley was inspired, and also has the historical sense for the new monument. I visited Richmond in January 2021 to see this sculpture in person, and ironically there is no longer a statue of James Ewell Brown (J. E. B.), which was an inspiring sculpture for "Rumors of War" production. With the aftereffect of the Black Lives Matter movement following the George Floyd incident, several statues on Monument Avenue were legally removed in July 2020. Then, could I say that the history of monumental sculptures has begun to be rewritten?!
*This article will be continued in “The Removed Monumental Sculptures” in the next issue.

George Washington’s Mount Vernon and the Enslaved People’s Memorial: Seen through a Sculptor’s Eyes

In Washington DC, it is not difficult to find the name of the first president, George Washington (1732-1799), who is called the founding father of the United States. Not only the capital’s name of the United States, but also the Washington Monument, the tallest structure in the middle of the city. Also, the prestigious George Washington University, and we find the George Washington Memorial Parkway along the Potomac River.
 Mount Vernon, where President George Washington lived from age 22 to 67 before his death, is located about 15 miles south of DC, accessible via the George Washington Memorial Parkway.   Mount Vernon was the home of President Washington and his family for nearly 45 years, and now his mansion and facilities lie on a large 500-acre farmland along the Potomac River in Virginia. The mansion, located on a hill with a superb view of the river, is said to be small and simple when rented in 1754 from his widowed sister-in-law. After that, in 1758 and 1775, it was reborn as a spacious mansion reflecting the taste of Washington through two constructions. In particular, they created a large Piazza and Colonnades on the east side of the mansion overlooking the Potomac River, which the Washington family used to spend the afternoon. In this space now, wooden chairs are lined up so that visitors can sit down and enjoy the scenery while looking down at the river. The mansion is a two-story red-roofed building, decorated with a golden dove shaped pinwheel in the middle of the roof, which symbolizes President Washington's hope for peace. On both sides of this mansion, the space where the servants stay and the kitchen are connected. In addition, there are small buildings for blacksmiths, mills, laundry, weaving houses, distilleries, salt storage, etc. Also, a beautiful flower garden, vegetable garden, small orchards, and barns can be found on the farm. This shows how life as a landlord was maintained by the many laborers who supported it.
Mount Vernon has the tomb of President George Washington and First Lady Martha Washington. As specified in President Washington's will, the body was relocated after his death, and the Washington couple is enshrined in marble caskets in the front, and 23 families are enshrined in the form of a family grave in the back.
After passing Washington's tomb and descending towards the Potomac River, another grave can be found. It is the grave of slaves who worked at Mount Vernon. There was a memorial with a cylindrical sculpture with the upper part cut diagonally in the middle of the forest. This memorial was originally a small memorial first founded by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association in 1929, but it was rebuilt in 1983 in its present state. The memorial, designed by Howard University's architecture students, engraves the biblical words “love”, “hope” and “faith”, which former slaves relied on, in a small circular memorial area, and it has a gray cut-out granite column called “life unfinished” in the center. Looking at this memorial sculpture calmly, I turned around and found some bundles of old flowers lying here and there in the woods surrounding the memorial. “Oh! What is this?” I wondered …
As I approached the bouquet, I found a rectangle marked with thread on the ground around the bouquet. At the moment I realized what this rectangle meant and I looked around it. Next to it and next to it, beyond the hill over there, there were withered bouquets of flowers and rectangles of yarn. This was the place where those who ended their slave lives in Mount Vernon were buried. No small tombstones or burial mounds can be found unless there is the sign of a bouquet and thread. They were just buried under the flat ground. According to oral histories, about 100-150 people are expected to be buried in this sacred hill, and the bodies were buried with their feet toward the eastern river, symbolizing their unfulfilled desire of returning to Africa.
George Washington inherited 11 slaves from his father when he was 11 years old, and at least 577 slaves lived and worked at Mount Vernon. The Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center in Mount Vernon features an exhibition documenting the life of Washington and an exhibition titled "Enslaved People of Mount Vernon". It is impressive that these two exhibitions are going on together. Also, in these exhibitions, I learned the dignified expression of “Enslaved People”, which emphasized their humanity instead of the word “slave”, which denotes a condition given by others. Especially, the exhibition “Enslaved People of Mount Vernon”  reminds me of the portrait of Flora, which I encountered at the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery. This portrait depicts Flora, the object of sale on the bill of sale, without any detail, just cut out brown paper of her silhouette.  In the way of expressing the portrait, I read the rough and low attitude of dealing with a human named Flora and this made me shocked. This attitude was sadly found in their lowly buried figure here in the hills west of Mount Vernon, and it is still found in the figure of a different George, who was suffocated by someone's knee in our present history even 200 years later. At such times, we need to look back on our history and have an objective attitude. By looking at the mistakes in history and the numerous efforts to improve them, will we be able to invoke the humanity within us once again?  Just like what I experienced at Mount Vernon today.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial: Seen through a Sculptor’s Eyes

The world is struggling with COVID-19. Whether there are victims who have died or suffered for a long period of time due to the virus infection, we are facing another difficulty due to the economy contracted by quarantine to prevent infection. With the U.S. unemployment rate at the highest levels since the Great Depression, policies to revitalize the economy are urgently needed. While the United States has stimulus programs such as Coronavirus stimulus checks to the public, small business loans and special unemployment benefits, other countries have their own remedy policies. Recently, Korea has announced that it will promote the 'Korean Version New Deal' as a national project in order to recover the economy. The New Deal is a stimulus package implemented by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States, to revive the stagnant economy in the United States from 1933 to 1936. It is regarded as a successful economic policy that marks an important milestone in overcoming the Great Depression and bringing economic development of the United States by providing jobs to the unemployed and reforming its economic structure, including welfare. President Roosevelt's ”New Deal'' policy is appropriate for reference in today's global economic crisis, in view of the proper intervention and support of the government in situations of economic crisis to support the basic market economy and liberal democracy. Along with questions about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's implementation of this policy, I decided to visit his memorial in Washington, DC.
The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, located in the Tidal Basin, Washington, DC's artificial lake, lies between the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. President Roosevelt is known as the leader who pushed for a New Deal during the Great Depression to overcome the U.S. economic crisis and as the leader of the Allied forces’ victory in World War II. His memorial was structured along the shore of the lake like a walkway in a park, passing through numerous flowers and trees in a flat area so that anyone can comfortably access the monument and look around. The memorial was dedicated by President Bill Clinton in 1997 and was built on 7.5 acres. The floors and structures of the memorial were made of South Dakota red granite and many of President Roosevelt’s quotes are inscribed on the walls. I was able to read his life and political philosophy of longing for peace, caring for the poor, and providing equal opportunities to all, while looking around the memorial inscribed with his writings.
The memorial was designed by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, selected by competition. President Roosevelt served four terms as president over a 12-year period.  The memorial structure was designed to reflect this service and is divided into five outdoor rooms - the first room serves as a prologue, and the remaining four rooms are designed to represent four years each. It is explained that each room has a waterfall that has a metaphorical meaning, and as it moves from one room to another, the waterfall becomes larger and more complex, and it is a design that symbolizes the role of the president in response to the economic downturn and the global war. (Unfortunately, during the visit, there was a technical issue with the waterfall, so I could not see the water flowing.) In the central part of the memorial, there is a large bronze statue of President Roosevelt with his loving dog, Fala. You can also see the statue of the first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, which is said to be the only depiction of the first lady in the memorials of the former presidents. The First Lady is a standing figure before the United Nations’ emblem noting her as the first U.S. delegate to the United Nations. This reflects the efforts of each presidential couple who hates war and emphasizes peace through cooperation among nations rather than just one nation.
President Roosevelt became disabled as an adult and suffered disabilities due to polio. The Roosevelt Memorial is said to have tried to create a memorial accessible to people with various physical disabilities, taking into account the background of the president. The entire memorial was made accessible to wheelchairs, and among the memorial sculptures, there are sculptures that are engraved in Braille and can be touched by the visually impaired. Created in 1997 by sculptor Robert Graham, "Social Programs" is the work of 54 programs that were launched in accordance with President Roosevelt's New Deal. The artist produced 5 bronze panels and 5 pillars. Each panel is 6 feet x 6 feet (180 cm) with the hands and faces of the workers participating in the program as the background, and the image of each program is produced in relief. The program titles were also engraved in Braille. The five cylinders described as industrial printers, such as rollers, are engraved as negative spaces with these images and Braille. This work was made with the intention that the visually impaired people could touch it, but I thought that this role would be difficult in the work I actually observed. Since the work is located higher than expected, there will be a limit to understanding by touching the whole, and the Braille used by the visually impaired is designed in one size so that it can be trained accordingly to the sense of the fingertips. Because the distance between dots is different, it will take a lot of time and effort for the blind to understand. However, it was quite impressive that for non-visually-impaired viewers, the images and Braille were used together to see the work in consideration of the disabled.
Sculpture by George Segal, a sculptor depicting citizens suffering economic hardships during the Great Depression, has been compelling to me for a long time. George Segal uses a plaster bandage to cast a real person, but instead of using it as a mother mold for the casting, he puts it back together to create a person with a hollow inside. The figure made in this way reveals the actual appearance through the surface of the plaster bandage, but has a certain degree of anonymity, which can be seen in his work at the Roosevelt Memorial. The work is finished in bronze and is a statue of a farming couple with saggy shoulders and people waiting in line for bread distribution. Maybe I cannot know who they are, some of them ghost-like, but at the same time they seem to be familiar as many Americans are currently experiencing despair and difficulty. Also, I found our present state in it. (The only difference is that the waiting lines have a six-foot social distance now.) The wall of this piece contains the following phrase that shows the basic philosophy of Franklin Roosevelt's welfare policy: ‘The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little’
At the memorial of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who has the background of “the one who has much” which is often called “Golden Boy” in American society, I met “the ones who have too little” such as the disabled, the poor, and women. Race related topics are not mentioned in this article, but messages of unity and cooperation between the races are also found throughout the memorial. Nearly a century after the Great Depression, we are facing another panic in our global pandemic, where our daily life and life itself are threatened, and in this we stand on the edge of mutual benefit. Looking back at Roosevelt's “New Deal” precedent at this time might provide at least a little hope of offering some of the answers to overcome the situation. Our society as a whole will be able to recover when we stand together to take care of the socially disadvantaged. It is undeniable that for this, leadership with the right values and political philosophy is urgently required. However, I realized that the awareness of each individual, including myself, was first, I decided to proceed with the project of “Hyun Jung Kim Version New Deal” in this time of my life crisis. Why don’t you try “your own New Deal“ together with those who are around you?

The National September 11 Museum: Seen through a Sculptor’s Eyes

The National 9.11 Museum was built on the site of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, New York, and is located between the monument “Reflecting Absence” on the south and north sides of the former Twin Towers. If the September 11 Memorial served as roles of commemorating and remembering the victims, the museum is responsible for stating, documenting, and educating its history and examining the impact of events in progress.
The museum had a sharp, geometrical shape that was difficult to discern when viewed from the front, and was built at a lower height than the surrounding buildings. The exterior walls of the building are made of reflective glass and metal, the surface is designed in stripes, and the combination of these shapes and materials gives the feeling of looking at the part of the collapsed Twin Towers. Norwegian architectural firm Snøhetta, which designed the Pavilion of the 9.11 museum, says saving the remains of the existing World Trade Center was the most important part of the design.
Entering the museum was more strict than other museums and memorials. After entering a security checkpoint like at an airport, visitors take a long escalator and go to the underground exhibition hall. On one side of the escalator, there are two iron pillars in the shape of large tridents. This has a symbolic meaning that the space of the museum is the same site as the twin towers since those tridents were part of the supporting structure located in front of the northern Twin Tower building. The museum’s interior was darkly lit, giving the impression of entering a deep burial ground in the form of an archaeologically excavated cave. The guide explained that the dark lighting was maintained for the preservation of artifacts in the field. In addition, the darkness created a more reverent and solemn atmosphere, considering that this space is actually the place of sacrifice for many victims and also a place where unidentified bodies are placed.
The tour simulates the actual day of September 11, beginning with a photo of the trade center at 8:30 am, a little before the terrorist attacks. The passage was like a dark tunnel, and there are posters looking for missing people at the time of the incident, projected on the walls and pillars. The cluttered posters, made in their own format, are just silent images but I experienced hallucinations of complex voices of the families as if they were calling their loved ones’ names. After crossing this pathway, one can see the interior of the museum – an open space with a high ceiling.
The museum's plan was aimed at four things: preservation, commemoration, education, and inspiration in content, which can be systematically found within this space where the place itself is an artifact. An old and broken staircase is displayed in the vertical space to descend to the deepest space in the museum. It is called "Survivors Staircase" because many former survivors escaped using this staircase. It is remembered as a remnant of some important existing sites along with the “Slurry Wall” and “Last Column”, and thus preserved and transferred to the museum when it was built.
In my previous article (May, 2020), I described the iconic fountains at the 9.11 Memorial with their streams of water flowing down their walls as if it they were human tears with the stories of victims, their families, and acquaintances, falling rapidly into the hole of a deep absence like the hell of death. I hadn’t realized it previously, but the bottom of each fountain actually sits above an exhibition hall of the museum. After reaching the bottom of the memorial where these tears gathered, I could finally meet that place in the museum. They were there: 2,983 victims. At the bottom of the North Memorial is an exhibition room with historical data of the events, and at the bottom of the South Memorial is an exhibition room with personal records of each victim. In particular, as soon as I entered the commemorative exhibition “In Memoriam”, the pictures of the victims overwhelmed me. I met some familiar faces: someone's son and daughter, father and mother, maybe one of my neighbors. The faces are so densely packed on everywhere from this wall to that wall and my tears that I had been holding back finally burst in that space. The exhibition hall also has a “touch table” – a touch-sensitive screen – which visitors can find information about each victim: what her/his favorite was, what she/he studied and what she/he was doing, who her/his family is, and how much friends and family loved her / him, are recorded through pictures, voices, and more. Here, rather than the death of each victim, their lives were commemorated in a more personal way than I had imagined.
There is a huge wall with blue tiles resembling the sky in the Memorial Hall across the North and South Memorial halls. This work, titled “Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning,” shows different watercolors of the sky on the day of September 11 as explained in the title. Artist Spencer Finch commemorates the 2,893 victims by reflecting each in their own sky. Behind this wall, the victims who could not be identified were placed, so it was thought that the space of the greatest pain was most beautifully and poetically decorated. Also on this wall, a quote from the Roman poet Virgil's Aeneid, “No day shall erase you from the memory of the time” is installed. Metalsmith Tom Joyce forged the wounded and crumpled pieces of steel which were found at the World Trade Center. He turned them into a message of hope and beauty, each letter weighing approximately 100 pounds. This hard production process and the result symbolize that the revealing and recording this difficult historical wound are a hard training but that we eventually will grow strong and will provide hope and promise in our history.
It is not easy to visit the museum with its many sacrifices. I experienced a wave of emotions: pain, sorrow, and even anger. But when I left the museum, I found myself no longer trapped in sorrow – I saw the love of humanity emerged in this tragic situation and realized the importance of the common values ​​to be kept once again. The National 9.11 Museum, which was thought to be like a cave of death, is actually a space that reminds us of and changes the values ​​that are important to us, like a cave of resurrection. I felt transformed as I came out of the dark underground museum, and was then welcomed by “Survivor’s Tree”. The survivor's tree, along with more than 400 newly planted trees, will blossom with the seasons, grow its leaves and grow large – as if our and the survivors’ hopes from these difficulties grow daily.