The Japanese-American Mako Fujimura faced an unusual opportunity in the wake of the World Trade Center disaster. A world-class artist and thoughtful Christian, Mako lives a few blocks away from Ground Zero, in a neighborhood populated with artists. After 9/11, with many of New York City’s artists shut out of their homes and studios, Mako opened a communal studio and dedicated it as “an oasis of collaboration by Ground Zero artists.”
At that time, many of these artists were producing works intended to shock, mostly filled with obscenity and violence. Suddenly, reality trumped creativity: what happened in their own neighborhood was far more obscene and violent than anything they had imagined. In the safety of Mako’s studio, these artists rediscovered other values—beauty, humaneness, gentleness—and their works began to reflect them. Gretchen Bender, an avant-garde artist who had worked to “decode gender and sexuality,” began making a different kind of creation. She folded hundreds of white origami butterflies and arranged them into a beautiful pattern, inspired by a real butterfly floating across her face days after 9/11. Gretchen called this her “resurrection moment.”
For six months the artists held exhibits, performances, poetry readings, and prayer gatherings in this safe place. As Mako later commented, “Our imaginative capacities carry a responsibility to heal, every bit as much as they carry a responsibility to depict angst.” The church once stood as a steward of culture, its patron as well as its guide. If we ignore the world outside our walls, we suffer as much as its inhabitants.