Artist Statement

Art is whatever lowers barriers and creates real communication across impassable barriers. To use it to create passions to fight for an issue is not art, it is the opposite of it, because it is not lowering or transcending barriers. Art is the only thing that can bridge or transcend or transform in real and lasting ways. And that is what it is. It makes connections with others very different from ourselves – – including our enemies and including hidden neglected unknown parts of ourselves that are wakened and drawn forth. – Maryat Lee

There is a particular kind of hurt when the reality of our lived experience is denied. We grow twisted, bonsai limbs, trying to shape ourselves to a story that will never fit. Droplets of lead steadily fill each pore, a bit uncomfortable at first, until suddenly we find we can’t move our features at all.

In the immediate aftermath of September 11 there was a hush as we stood stark before the enormity of what had happened. Then a rush of sound; sirens, voices, broadcast newscasters and politicians. People trying to be authoritative even when they didn’t really know what had happened themselves.

Certain kinds of stories found amplification. They told of heroism, American can-do spirit. Those who complicated the narrative were quickly silenced. Voices, that spoke of sadness, confusion and searching questions, were held back until we could no longer hear them and forgot that they existed at all.

Grief requires an expanse. The field is filled with the shards of our exploded lives. It is an arduous process to shape the pieces of your story back into something that can be survived. Some people, good people, hard working people, people who are loved, do not make it.

I made Voices of 9.11 because I knew grief. I wanted to create a place where people could be held while doing the necessary work of crafting their story. Where each person’s contribution is a gift that adds to our collective project of humanity and understanding of the world.

I made Voices of 9.11 because I cherish our imperfect union. As a nation we plunged forward in out dated models of revenge and retaliation, missing an opportunity to learn from the expertise of others who have lived experience with terror both abroad and at home. The cost of that missed conversation is all around us.

I am deeply grateful to all the people who bravely shared their story in 2002-2003. I think of you, wonder about your lives and very much hope that you are well and thriving. Thank you for collaborating to make this people’s archive possible.

My heartfelt thanks to all the people who worked so hard behind the scenes to create and sustain Voices of 9.11.

Each of us is already weaving the threads for what happens next in our story. It is a good fight to dream boldly, refusing the co-optation of our imaginative worlds. Our stories hold a wild freedom. They can bust open possibility, reach around the globe, even touch other generations. They never exist in isolation but always reveal a joyous disorder of threads running out and through the stories of others. Shimmering, waving, we tilt into the light of our collective future.

Ruth Sergel
NYC 2021