New York, NY –
ANCHOR: It’s back to the drawing board for the idea of a statue to represent the three white firefighters who hoisted an american flag at ground zero after the world trade center attacks. The controversial design that depicted the firefighters as white black and latino has been withdrawn. But wnyc’s brian lehrer says the incident has left him feeling sad for all sides.
BRIAN: Let me state right up front that I think the artists who designed the statue blew it. the original photograph was already a powerful piece of art and did not need to be interpreted. It was our modern day iwo jima, and the three firefighters who hoisted the flag were real people known to their communities.
In my opinion, the artists were actually trying to be TOO creative, too symbolic, too metaphorical.
Ivan Schwartz, owner of Studio EIS, was the man in charge and now concedes, the city wasn't ready for something that abstract.
So he was wrong. But part of the tragedy here is that the controversy empowered white racists. To watch tv and listen to the radio, you’d think OJ Simpson, mike tyson and al sharpton had taken hostages and threatened the city with who knows what if they didn’t put a quota on the statue. But no presumed murderers, rapists or even activists were involved, no less in a threatening way. Rather, the artists had a concept that was worthy and true. It was this:
All new yorkers were attacked on septemember eleventh, and new yorkers from all our backgrounds helped get us through it. the statue design was meant to represent something larger than the photograph, the city unified in the wake of the attack.
It’s not the way I would have done it. and their design was inadvertently insensitive to the firefighters and their families. But Is the concept really so bad? Does it place the artists among the evildoers?
You’d think so from the media response. And the mail ivan schwartz says he’s been getting.
Tape re: mail
The worst thing about the artists blowing it is this: it gives the racists clout the next time a really IMPORTANT diversity issue comes up: say, college admissions or the fact that the NYFD is still 94 percent white.
Now, here’s a common ground proposal for ground zero art: why not build TWO statues - one of the actual firefighters erecting the actual flag, another multiracial one to show the unified city - and come to think of it, maybe a third to show how easily we get re-divided.
In the meantime, imagine this:
YOU’RE the designer, with the photo in hand. The three guys are wearing their identical firefighters uniforms. You decide that it would be a meaningful symbol and a larger statement about our unified country not to make their skin white black and brown, but to change their three shirts to red, white and blue.
Historically accurate? No. would half the media have gone apoplectic? We’ll never know, but I have a guess.
Host, The Brian Lehrer Show
Brian Lehrer is host of The Brian Lehrer Show, WNYC Radio's daily call-in program, covering politics and life, locally and globally. The show airs weekdays from 10am-noon on WNYC 93.9 FM, AM 820 and wnyc.org.