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Making sense of

Making sense of


Unveiled on September 11, 2006, out artist Graydon Parrish's installation The Cycle of Terror and Tragedy symbolizes "the passage of time, the loss of love, and the brevity and frailty of life," the artist says. The piece is now on exhibit and part of the permanent collection at the New Britain Museum of American Art in New Britain, Conn.

Most Americans remember where they were on September 11, 2001. I was at home watching the news. I cannot forget the image of the second plane, which seemed so small by contrast, hitting the second twin tower. It was like a large toy, at once innocuous and familiar: How could the destruction that followed, years of conflict, wars and strife, come from something so ubiquitous and benign, a symbol of prosperity and commerce?

I still feel both pain and confusion from the event. Moreover, even after painting The Cycle of Terror and Tragedy, I can only suggest that tragedy is part of the human condition. Tragedy is what happens in spite of our most heroic efforts, our best selves. Tragedy is ironic at times and unsettling. It never seems right or understandable. It is the common thread of past, present, and future.

Yet September 11 has made its own mark in the cycle. It began a new era of vivid and potent contrasts. The differences between us and other nations are more pointed, and by extension, our similarities clearer. Likewise, each idea, each action surrounding that day proffers contrasts: love and loss, freedom and restraint, even peace and war.

The Cycle of Terror and Tragedy, 2005, oil on canvas, 76 x 210 In., 2002 - 06. Collection of the New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, CT. Used with permission.

It would take more than I am capable to assuage the pain left by this day. It will certainly take great minds to understand September 11 in its wider context. Yet art offers a key to understanding that day as well. I have struggled to present a symbolic narrative that stirs the imagination while encouraging deep and needed reflection. I have attempted a mithridate, if you will, for the future so that pain can be understood over time, bit by bit, thus arming the spirit with the ability to survive future tragedies. The familiar story of the innocent, once awakened, struggling through life's tragic events, reconciling loss and sharing renewed strength--a true triumph over adversity--is a valuable reminder both in art and life of our importance as individuals in a diverse community.

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Graydon Parrish