The Contested Space of Memory: New York’s 9/11 Memorial

By Sabrina DeTurk.

Published by The International Journal of Social, Political and Community Agendas in the Arts

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In the weeks and months following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, New Yorkers and others began what would turn into a heated and protracted debate about the appropriate way to rebuild the space occupied by the World Trade Center and to memorialize those killed. Families of the victims, politicians, property developers, and neighborhood residents, among others, all held their own strong—and often conflicting—opinions about the rebuilding and the memorial space. This paper examines the ways in which the final memorial design, Reflecting Absence by Michael Arad and Peter Walker, negotiates the difficult task of balancing the need for intimate, personal recollection with the intensely public nature of the memorial. How effectively do the formal elements of the memorial respond to the goals outlined in the competition brief, including “recogniz[ing] each individual who was a victim of the attacks, provid[ing] a space for contemplation, creat[ing] a unique and powerful setting, and convey[ing] historic authenticity”? How does the completed memorial engage its visitors during their exploration of the site? In what ways are visitors encouraged to interact with the memorial, thus claiming, however briefly, a connection to the events that unfolded in that space? I suggest that Reflecting Absence has mixed success in addressing these elements and other critical aspects of memorial design, while recognizing that the intensely personal nature of the memorial experience resonates differently for each visitor. I also suggest that the impact of the memorial will change over time as construction of other buildings on the site is completed and as the memorial becomes a familiar part of the fabric of lower Manhattan.

Keywords: Public Art, Memorials, 9/11, Design Competitions, World Trade Center, Architecture, Memory

The International Journal of Social, Political and Community Agendas in the Arts, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp.47-56. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.062MB).

Dr. Sabrina DeTurk

Associate Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, Saint Joseph's University, Philadelphia, PA, USA

Sabrina DeTurk is Associate Dean of Graduate Arts and Sciences and Instructor in the Art Department at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her current research interests are in the area of artistic responses to war and trauma, including art produced in response to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to the events of 9/11/2001. She received her Ph.D. from Bryn Mawr College.