The 9/11 terrorist attacks affected Americans in various ways. For New Zealand-born Susana Lei’ataua, 9/11 impacted her career as an artist. Her 9/11 memorial piece titled “Wall of Light” is currently on display in the Kimmel Center for University Life’s second floor Commuter Lounge.
Lei’ataua lived in New York while studying at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in the 1990s, but left to shoot a television series in 2001. Upon her return in the winter of 2001, the city’s landscape was unrecognizable.
In the wake of the attacks, the mood of the streets was somber, yet everything imaginable was covered patriotically in American flags. Lei’ataua’s curiosity about this trend of hanging American flags caused her to take pictures of the Lower East Side and Chinatown.
Lei’ataua pulled out the images 10 years later and decided it was important to memorialize New York during that intensely emotional time, demonstrating the drastic changes that have shaped present-day Manhattan.
“In the 10 years that have passed since I took these images, the Lower East Side has continued to change,” Lei’ataua said. “This ‘Wall of Light’ is my memorial to New York at this time of transition from 2001 to 2002, to the remnants of what I recognized and remember, to the moments of change at that time that have now long since been usurped, to what remains, and continues.”
The “Wall of Light” features Lei’ataua’s photographs arranged to resemble an American flag made up of bricks. The idea for the design came from Lei’ataua’s time on an archaeological site in Waimoana Station in New Zealand. She realized the rock formation preserved the tombs within while blending in perfectly with the environment. The bricks Lei’ataua used represent the hand-laid beginnings of New York City. Each picture in the large display somehow incorporates the image of the American flag.
Students felt the gallery illustrated the strength and unity of the U.S. in the face of tragedy.
“[The display] shows the different facets of the community all coming together,” said Stern sophomore Solomon Leung. “This is representative of America. Different cultures and communities coming together as one.”
“[The memorial] shows that we are strong enough to move on from this event,” said CAS sophomore Cindy Tsui.
Lei’ataua felt the memorial belonged to the people and city of New York.
Along with the Office of International Students and Scholars, Lei’ataua decided on the commuter lounge as the setting for the memorial because everyone could walk by and easily see it from up close and afar.
“‘Wall of Light’ is a memorial for the everyday nature of my New York home.” said Lei’ataua. “The memories, the people, the aesthetic of culture and community that I have experienced undergo both subtle and significant change so that now I reminisce what was, what has gone before, and all the while understand that I, too contribute to its changing face,” .
Eliana Saks is a contributing writer. Email her at [email protected]