Art To Remember Them By

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Artist Jean Holabird could see the North Tower of the World Trade Center through her loft window as she drank her morning coffee. On a clear September day, she watched with horror as a treasured part of New York City’s skyline crumbled before her very eyes. For the next several months, she felt compelled to paint what she had experienced, in the unbearably surreal aftermath of 9/11.

Holabird, 64, recalled, “When the second plane hit, there was a universal consciousness that this was not an accident. The first tower fell. I could see the second tower through my skylight, falling.

“When I saw where the plane struck, I thought it damaged the 92nd floor — devoted to artists. I didn’t think anyone would be there at that time, but there was one artist.”

‘Witness — A Look Back to the Future’

A special exhibition hosted by LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, will present more than 100 passionate works created by 15 talented artists, including Holabird, who lived or worked in the shadow of the Twin Towers, and witnessed those horrific events unfolding. Using a variety of media, the artists reveal their own personal stories, capturing a dark time in our nation’s history. The exhibit will be on display from Sept. 10 through Nov. 23.

This event also honors the spontaneous shrines and walls collaged with posters, during the citywide search for the missing, as well as the gradual rebuilding of Ground Zero.

The students’ exhibit, “10 Years Later,” runs concurrently.

“The subject was the aftermath of a tragedy of international proportions that had some kind of effect personally or ethnically, and possibly life-changing elements,” said the curator, Professor Bruce Brooks.

Forever seared in our minds

On the day America lost its innocence, a small community of artists mourned with fellow New Yorkers who had lost loved ones.

Michael Richards, 38, was working on his sculptures, the Tuskegee Airmen Collection, in his studio on the 92nd floor of the North Tower when the first plane hit. Of the 3,000 who perished that day, he was the only artist. Two works from that collection: “Are You Down?” and his most famous, prophetic work, “Tar Baby vs. St Sebastian (1999),” are life-size bronze versions of Richards, pierced by airplanes, flames and meteors everywhere. For the last 10 years he’d been obsessed with the imagery of flight. His outstanding works are reproduced in this exhibition.

Bruce Brooks, of Brooklyn, was working on “Tree of Blood” on 9/11. “My tree colors turned to blood — churning, turbulence combined with my shock. I was optimistic before, pessimistic after. My work has gotten darker but my commitment to it has deepened. Art celebrates the human spirit and what is intelligent and positive in humankind.”

Anna Sanchez, of Sunnyside, Queens said she loves the Fine Arts program at LaGuardia. She was half a block from the South Tower when it fell. “I was going to work and ran for my life.” Her piece, “The Sun Will Rise,” is based on a Japanese poem called “The Bomb,” which, like the occurrences of 9/11, is about a tragedy, and destruction.

Turkish-born, Serhat Tanyolacar’s “Mutual Dialogue” transformed two traditional Islamic garments called jubbah, into one single freestanding sculpture. “Whether Muslim or Christian, Jewish or atheist, regardless of their cultural, ethnic or religious background, people living in America are the bound pieces of a collective consciousness that shapes the American Dream.”

LaGuardia Community College Professor Kristin Jefferson, the exhibition’s curator, said the reaction to 9/11 among her students was in stark contrast to the artists’ response.

“While the Ground Zero artists’ experiences were deeply personal, I discovered that 9/11 for the students and those who weren’t in the city on that day was a totally abstract and impersonal event,” she said. “I thought the contrast said a lot about the effects of distance and time.”

In the 102-minute interval between 8:46 a.m., when the first plane struck the World Trade Center, and 10:28 a.m., when the North Tower fell, Lower Manhattan existed in a suspended state of uncertainty. “We were caught in limbo between two worlds: the world that was, and the world that would be; between not knowing and knowing, presence and absence, innocence and experience,” recalled artist William Kelly. His video, “The Interval,” was shot during those 102 minutes.

Jefferson said, “The exhibition will have works which are emblematic of the neighborhood and human community before, during and after the 9/11 tragedy, revealing the up-close and personal ravages that brought an end to a way of life for the country, and for a Lower Manhattan community of artists. However, it’s also a tribute to our nation’s character and resilience. The haunting images in the exhibition are both personal and part of our communal memories.”

And, she said she’s “very proud of the exhibit. It’s a quiet show: personal, powerful and different from the other New York exhibitions commemorating 9/11.”

LaGuardia Community College, 31-10 Thomson Avenue, Long Island City. For more information please call (718) 482-5055.

Updated 7:09 pm, September 14, 2011
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