A Feminist Sculptor’s Stunning Memorial to 9/11

Why are her eyes closed? Why are her palms turned inward? The figure seems to possess superhuman power, stopping the jet-bombs with her hands. But this sculpture is not a cartoon fantasy; it is a memorial that invites contemplation and fills the viewer with comfort, remembrance and inspiration. Perhaps her eyes are closed in prayer, and her palms are turned inward to concentrate her inner strength. Meredith Bergmann is the New York City sculptor, poet and feminist who created this extremely moving and powerful memorial to the September 11th attacks. I caught up with her to talk about her work.

Ms. Blog: Is this sculpture an expression of your feminism? If so, how?

Meredith Bergmann: Yes, it is. Early in 2001, when the Taliban dynamited the two Bamiyan Buddha sculptures, I was appalled, but it seemed to be a distant atrocity. When I read about what they were doing to their women, the evil seemed to come closer. When New York was attacked I was shocked, horrified and very angry. I’d been thinking about the Houris, the virgins who were supposed to be waiting to greet and serve the terrorists in Paradise, and what a travesty that idea made of all that is truly feminine. I imagined them being greeted by this woman instead. I felt she should be absorbing and surviving the attack, wounded but alive, unlike the disintegrated Buddhas.

So many contemporary memorials are abstract. Why did you choose a figurative memorial?

It is important, I think, to see 9/11 commemorated with a figurative rather than an abstract sculpture, as representational art is more defiant of the ideology that informed the attacks. At that time, I felt defiantly determined to make as non-Taliban a sculpture as possible: first of all, a nude woman from the tradition of the allegorical female nude, representing New York City as young and strong and alert — even tough.

Why is the figure nude?

I made the figure a female nude because in our tradition descending from ancient Athens the female figure has represented the most life-giving, nurturing and inspirational forces we can imagine. This figure’s nudity is chaste, and it reveals both her strength and her vulnerability, as our open, democratic, inclusive society (at least in its ideals) is both strong and vulnerable.

Where can we see the sculpture?

It’s permanently installed in New York City’s Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, on a pedestal with glass sides that will hold fragments of the Twin Towers. As an artist who has traveled widely to draw inspiration from art in cathedrals, this commission means a great deal to me. I was able to draw on the long tradition of reliquaries–beautiful containers made of metal and crystal, often shaped like miniature buildings–that were crafted to preserve and exhibit pieces of the bodies or belongings of heroes or saints that could teach profound lessons, boost the power of prayers and sometimes work miracles. This reliquary pedestal is shaped like a building, too: The beveled corners and angled top are based on Minoru Yamasaki’s design for the World Trade Towers. Inside are interconnected pieces of metal, concrete and wood from some kind of flooring or structural wall–and some shredded magenta fabric from some kind of lingerie, still bearing a label from Victoria’s Secret, size Small. There was a Victoria’s Secret store on the World Trade Center concourse, and the garment may have lain there on a shelf when the whole building came down on it. For me, as a counterpoint to my sculpture, this shred is a terribly poignant reminder that so much that is intimate was exposed, so much that is life-affirming was killed, so much that is instinctive was attacked.

How was this project funded? Can the public help?

The Cathedral is accepting donations to fund the project and I’ve offered to find donors to help raise another $10,000 to finish paying for the bronze casting. If you would like to help, please send a check  to “The Cathedral of St. John the Divine,” with “Bergmann September 11th Sculpture” written in the memo line, to me at: Meredith Bergmann, 400 E. 77th St., New York, N.Y. 10075.

Photos by Michael Bergmann

 

Comments

  1. Wow very beautiful and serene looking.

  2. Wonderful interview, Mary. Thanks for asking about the choice of nude. And, duh. I thought I’d seen this before. SS

  3. Please where on the cathedral are the statue????

  4. Thank you for your comments!
    To find the sculpture, please walk up the right-hand side aisle of the nave towards the altar and climb several steps. You will see an alcove to your right, before the chapels, with two bright windows that bring a lot of daylight into the cathedral. The sculpture stands below the windows.
    Meredith

  5. While this is a beautiful statue, I believe that this artist stole her idea from another artist who was in the twin towers and died on 9/11/2001. His name was Michael Richards and his sculpture of a Tuskegee Airman getting hit by tiny planes was like a premonition of his own death. Here is a link to his story and images of his sculptures: http://blackartblog.blackartdepot.com/features/featured-ethnic-artist/michael-rolando-richards.html and as soon as you see them you will agree that Meridith Bergman has stolen ideas from another.

    • I’m not sure it’s that clear. Richards’ inspiration seems to have come from a different place, and the similarities between the sculptures may be entirely coincidental. Certainly, the woman in Bergman’s sculpture represents something different from the man in Richards’. His sculpture appears to represent victimization, while hers represents survival and endurance.

      It’s sad and ironic, though, that after having used himself to cast the mold of the sculpture of a man being attacked by airplanes, that Richards died in precisely that way.

    • Honestly, regardless of the similarities of Richard’s and Bergman’s sculptures, I say Bravo! Her similarities have not only commemorated the lost and comfort of the 9/11 tragedy we all share, but she has opened awareness of Richard’s life and death to us all.
      I’m an traditional artist and graphic designer who has studies various artist all my life, and I’ve never heard of Richards. I probably would never have seen his work, if not for falling head over heels for Bergman’s piece. So now, I have two new artist to love and study and adsorb. Her work has returned his works to the world, and now his death will not be in vain and his work will continue to live and grow within the hearts of new artist everywhere.
      Therefore, does it truly matter about the similarities? I say not.

    • Michael was a very dear friend of mine. I think to say his work was about victimization is an oversimplification, as it had many layers of meaning. The Tuskegee airmen were victimized by the US govt, but they were also heroes. I think to MIchael, the airplanes were probably not simply symbols of victimization, as flying was something the Tuskegee airmen did well and proud of. It is only with post-9/11 eyes that we cannot unsee the planes as a symbol of horror.

      The similarity between Michael’s work and Bergmann’s is striking. It makes me sad that he was not able to fulfill his own career as an artist. His work was rich and complex and he had a unique perspective on identity and identity politics. He was very talented and hard working, and a good friend. I miss him still.

    • Thanks for the knowledge Gabrille. I’d like to share this story. Is there a share option anywhere? I have been looking and I can’t find one.

      And Meridith this is a beautiful sculpture.

    • It seems pretty obvious that two different minds can imagine the concept of a figure being hit by planes – esp concerning September 11. Posting this here is not only disrespectful to the artists and all those involved, but it makes you look very foolish.

  6. mutowo moses tongesai says:

    A beautiful creation.It has some emotional attachment

  7. Impressive Great Artwork !!!

  8. Mary r. Hopkins says:

    It is feminist because she is using superhuman powers as a goddess would
    to protect her children
    Women use their bodies to create new life which then requires unconditional love and nurture.
    And etc and etc

  9. what strikes me most is the calm , peaceful look of the woman in the face of reality. her calm, peace extends up and down her entire body. it makes me feel that while her body maybe destroyed her spirit lives forever and always.

  10. Inder Ahuja says:

    V Perfect and Idealistic showing the strength and real beauty of women….

  11. Intersectionality, anyone? says:

    What a beautiful tribute to white trash imperialistic feminism!

    “When I read about what they were doing to their women, the evil seemed to come closer” THEIR woman?

    Did Obama, et al, commission this? Stunning memorial? Stunning propaganda.

  12. Paul Vermeer says:

    I’m moved and intrigued and inspired and saddened all simultaneously. And that was just from the first 60 seconds looking at it. Love this piece. Pity I live on the other side of the world and can’t see it in person. Very good work.

  13. Beautiful work!

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