White Elephant is a ceramic sculpture installation in the form of a memorial that I would like to dedicate to the people of New York City, who are hopefully now ready to contemplate the larger meaning of 9/11 — six years after this cataclysmic event. On 9/11/01, as the World Trade Center smashed to the ground and turned into a large smoking pile of debris, all of the bystanders on Church Street, including me, glimpsed an enormous cloud of smoke, which began creeping through the valley of the buildings on the street. I do not remember anything but my gasping for breath as I dashed up Church Street to run away from the smoke. Even though I was nearby that day, I cannot claim to understand the full impact of loss and grief. Instead, coming from Hiroshima– whose own history of horror and destruction was imprinted on me since my childhood– I am able to feel a profound sympathy.In 2005, based on the western saying, “elephants never forget,” I created a life-sized elephant sculpture at the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art. As a gesture of remembrance to commemorate the year, 2005, which was the sixtieth anniversary of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I created a metal framework in the shape of a reclining elephant and inserted branches and leaves from trees that survived the atomic bombing.
My approach for a memorial for 9/11 is to create a place of silence, in which imagination, spiritual reflection, and introspection can be evoked. Once again, I have chosen the elephant as a motif. The bodies of elephants can be viewed as dramatized versions of our human bodies. By the same token, I am interested in the gentleness of elephants as a way to convey hope for greater compassion. In Asia, the white elephant is derived from the legend of the birth of Buddha and thus has sacred implications. For a king or prince, having white elephants was regarded as a sustaining symbol of justice, peace and prosperity.
White Elephant will depict a scene in which a life-sized elephant is deconstructed and dispersed throughout the space. In one way, this composition resembles the meditative rocks of a Japanese Zen garden. In another way, this is a metaphorical description of scattered debris of the World Trade Center. However, the installation can also demonstrate the complexity of remembering 9/11 as a moment in which the equilibrium of the metaphorical and sacred meaning of the white elephant — justice, peace and prosperity — have become shattered in the current state of contemporary America. We lost thousands of lives in 9/11, however, we also have lost many more innocent children and their families in the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in all wars that never cease to exist; in other words, the unwelcome saga of our civilization. Can’t we recognize the sufferings of others’ through our very own?
With the project White Elephant, which I envision as a monument for 9/11, I intend to encourage the viewer to contemplate a more compassionate understanding of the difficult times we face.
Hiroshi Sunairi, 2007