Paul Cahan

World Trade Center Memorial Sculpture 2003-2012

On Sept. 11, 2001 I was on a bus to New York, it was on the spiral that leads into the Lincoln Tunnel. Once we came into view of the Hudson River, most passengers looked towards lower Manhattan out of habit. We all saw the fast rising plume of black smoke coming from the first Tower. The smoke was volcanic looking, dark, thick, violent, and started to fill the sky upwards and at an angle; there are no words to describe the sickening feeling knowing that we were witnessing workers in the midst of an inferno. I thought: terrorism. My stomach sank.

No- one who witnessed it with all senses will ever forget. Months later there were immediate art shows of the photographs taken of the thousands of posters of the missing that flooded the streets and subways, and charcoal sketches of the falling towers. It did not seem real on TV. I waited about three weeks before visiting the still smoldering area, where the tall façade of the towers still precariously balanced at an angle. Ashes were still on the outside frames of nearby office windows like snow after a blizzard. I needed to visit and see the space where I used to have many work meetings and see where people I knew were murdered.

For my job I met with executives downtown, who told me about their recurring memories they were having of seeing people who jumped from the towers. There were so many who jumped. That was the beginning of the feeling that I needed to make a piece of art about that… to honor the courage of human beings forced to jump. How can this bravery and desperation be sensitively portrayed in their honor, and represent a universal effect of terrorism… fear, but to the infinite degree among these victims, fear that cannot ever be understood.

My 9/11 Memorial started with two leaning towers,like two legs, and I worked upwards from there. Work on the sculpture began in 2002 but progress was very slow. I wanted to work on it, but I avoided doing so. It was indeed painful to create a piece about unfathomable pain. You cannot rush the mourning process, nor the creative process.

The whole piece was finally completed about 10 years after I started working on it.

The first title to the piece was: “Do Not Forget Those Who Had To Jump.” A feeling of complete terror that none of us can possibly imagine but should not forget. It is my hope that a public or private institution will ask me to donate this piece and they would display it every September.

The photographs were taken at a time when the Freedom Tower, visible in the background, was about half done.

Dec. 31, 2014

Please click on images thumbnails for larger view:


WTC Memorial Sculpture
WTC Memorial Sculpture
WTC Memorial Sculpture
WTC Memorial Sculpture
WTC Memorial Sculpture
WTC Memorial Sculpture



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