In the fall of 2001 the Whitney Museum presented an exhibition of Jacob Lawrence’s work, including his sixty-panel Migration Series. A class of thirteen-year-old New York City students at The Calhoun School saw the exhibit. Influenced by Lawrence’s portrayal of complex events in American history, the students collaboratively tackled the telling of their own recent history—the aftermath of 9/11 as they were experiencing it. This exhibition at DC Moore Gallery is the first public presentation of the series of thirty-one collages that they created. Ten years later, this visual narrative remains a moving and insightful testament to the personal and global impact of the World Trade Center attacks.
Lawrence’s Migration Series (1940-41) tracked the widespread movement of African Americans from the agricultural South to the industrial North that began during World War I. Lawrence drew from first-hand knowledge to create the series, capturing the unique experience of individuals while communicating the complicated, underlying causes and effects of the migration. Coupled with concise, descriptive prose sentences, his paintings utilize the pared-down forms and bold colors of modernism to communicate a powerful historical narrative. Lawrence chose the Great Migration as his subject because he felt it was “important as a part of the evolution of America,” something that affected “the whole of America mentally, economically, and socially.”
Certainly the same is true of 9/11.
For the thirty-one students who created the collages in the exhibition, 9/11—which coincided with their first day of eighth-grade—became the defining event of the world they were growing up in. The collages, coupled with succinct captions, trace the events of 9/11 as the students witnessed them, from the moments immediately after the attacks to what followed—war in Afghanistan and increased security measures, both of which we continue to grapple with today.
The collages convey unsettling observations and experiences: empty streets, missing persons posters, and fighter jets overhead. At the same time, they express a sense of community and resiliency: first responders, candlelight vigils, blood donation, and the ubiquity of the flag. The students also used the collages to critically confront difficult issues. One caption reads: Muslims were dehumanized, another: People started using the flag as a symbol of war. By adapting Lawrence’s artistic innovations to their own contemporary story, the students created a moving visual document whose immediacy and poignancy remain undiminished.
Calhoun’s 13-year-old artists, Class of 2006, were: Benjamin Abrams, Weslee Berke, Angela Bonilla, Justin Brooke, Harper Buonanno, Clio Calman, James Dawson, Michael Feher, Erik Font, Theo Goodman, Sophie Harris, Jonathan Jimenez, David Katz, Rachel Klepner, Eva Loomis, Emily McDonald, Madeleine McMillan, Ramon “PJ” Padilla, Joshua Pozzuto, Rory Sasson, Samara Savino, Katherine Schreiber, Andrew Schwartz, Sophie Silverberg, Rachel Spitz-Lieberman, Raymond Weiss, Rachel Wiedermann, Blake Zaretsky, David Zhou, Michael Zurkuhlen, and Peter Zurkuhlen. 9/11 Through Young Eyes was an interdisciplinary project coordinated by teachers Helen Bruno and Jessica Houston. Founded in 1896, The Calhoun School is a progressive independent school, located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, for children in pre-K through twelfth grades.