As part of The Jersey Journal’s 9/11 anniversary coverage, I wrote an article about how art was inspired or impacted by the event. I used an interview about an upcoming exhibit with Midori Yoshimoto, a professor of contemporary art history at New Jersey City University (NJCU) and director of two galleries, to anchor the article and to get some perspective on the relationship between 9/11 and the arts.
The exhibit, “AFTERWARDS and FORWARD: A ten-year 9/11 Reflective Art Exhibition,” will be on display on weekdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and by appointment through September 27. An artists’ reception will be held tomorrow from 4:#0 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. A lecture by Dennis Raverty, Ph.D., “The impact of 9/11 on Recent Art,” will be held on Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. The exhibit is on display at the NJCU Visual Arts Gallery, 100 Culver Ave., Jersey City. The lecture will be held at the VAB auditorium B08, NJCU. For more information, call (201) 200-2496.
An interview with NJCU professor Midori Yoshimoto
Summer Dawn Hortillosa: Hi, Midori. So what is “AFTERWARDS and FORWARD: A ten-year 9/11 Reflective Art Exhibition” about?
Midori Yoshimoto: It’s going to be 18 multi-media works by international and local artists. Some of them are indirect, but most of them do have references to 9/11 or the aftermath or even the construction of the World Trade Center. Some works also try to look forward to peacemaking for the future, like Yoko Ono’s wish tree. It doesn’t have any relationship to 9/11, but her artwork lets viewers make wish and write their wishes on shipping tag, and attach it to the tree.
SDH: Wow. Yoko Ono’s a pretty big deal – what other artists will be in this exhibition?
MY: This exhibit has been in so many different museums before, but this is the first time it will be shown in Jersey City. One of the most well-known artists in the exhibit is Ultra Violet – she used to be a friend of Andy Warhol. She continues her pop art-inspired style with her sculpture which is baked enamel on a metallic sculpture – “9/11” in roman numerals. It has a very iconic, pop-art feel to it even though it’s the saddest moment in recent history, she has the ability to turn it into a cultural icon, sort of a moment frozen in time.
SDH: Are there any other works that make a big impact on its viewers?
MY: Many of them stand out. For example, a work by Chee Wang NG, a Chinese diasporic artist who lives in New York. He has created a 9/11 memorial in which he has a very large bowl of rice with chopsticks in the middle. They resemble the Twin Towers, or its referencing the physical form of the lost Twin Towers and also of chopsticks stuck in a bowl of rice, which you only see at the funerals in East Asian countries like China. He does this installation with candlelight.
SDH:That sounds like a really unique take on the subject of 9/11. What other angles do these artists approach? Do you talk about conspiracy, the war on terror, the aftermath?
MY: Our exhibition is not just about directly about 9/11; it also includes works commenting on war and terror like this small intricately painted painting by Raúl Villarreal, “BANDIDO,” which refers to the “Most Wanted” posters of the Old West. It’s kind of critiquing George Bush as the “bandido” even though you know, he was portrayed as hero, in a way, for going to Iraq for war. Many of us saw it as an unnecessary war which might have caused tragic consequences so he is here portrayed as “bandido” – “most wanted.”
SDH: Do you think that 9/11 has a special significance for local artists in the New York – New Jersey metropolitan area?
MY: Yes. In fact, we have a film by Jacqui Taylor Basker, who lived in Westbeth, a public-subsidized artists’ building in West Village, New York City. She interviewed artists who lived there for many years about their experience of 9/11 and in the years after 9/11. She interviewed them twice – right after in 2002 and then again five years later, so the film shows their transition from the immediate aftermath to some years later. Some of them were really close to the area and were able to watch how the World Trade Center was being built in the 70’s and some of them watched them fall. The film footage actually does include some of the artists’ photographic documentation of the buildings’ collapse and how they felt about this tragic event.
SDH: How did they feel? Did 9/11 affect their work? I imagine all artists in this area felt something but may not have wanted to create art about it, especially right after the attacks because it’s all too fresh and too sensitive. Do you think this is true?
MY: Well, right after 9/11, I think there might have been sort of a self-censorship on the part of artists to not portray 9/11 directly. But maybe after several years, after this ten-year anniversary, there may be more works that delve deeper into the core issues of 9/11 or even the emotional core of the event.
SDH: Do you think that maybe several years from now, art historians can look at art created after 9/11 and point out how 9/11 affected art in general or find how artists and their views were influenced by the event?
MY: Wow, that’s a really interesting question. Yeah, probably. Maybe it might take another ten years – it takes about 20 years to start reassessing the art. I think there are already some authors working on that and this year I see there are concurrent exhibitions at the state museum in Trenton, the Brooklyn Museum – there are many museums already interested in organizing an exhibition of art related to 9/11 and there will probably be more in the years to come.
SDH: What do you think of artists who specifically make things related to 9/11 and sell them as like, memorabilia pieces? Do you think they’re really just earnestly being inspired by something they know has had a great impact on our country – especially this region – or do you think they’re sort of taking advantage and wanting to make money off of it?
MY: I think they all have personal experiences from 9/11 and I don’t think they – at least not any of the artists in this exhibit – are trying to take economic advantage of the opportunity. (Although I don’t know about all artists on a larger scale.)
SDH: So what makes this exhibit special?
MY: Our exhibition focuses on the memorializing of 9/11 but it also includes works that focus on the war on terror and peacemaking. It’s trying to move beyond the immediate focus on 9/11 itself onto what we can do from now.
SDH: What can we do from now?
MY: I guess incorporate even broader global points of view regarding this event or find other ways to objectify their emotional experiences after ten years. For example, some who have had deaths in the family or lost friends – that experience might have prevented him or her to make any work regarding this particular subject but now with the time lapse, they might be able to step aside, step away from their hurt and all the trauma and might be able to translate the experience into art forms that are more universal.