| Chris Melzer & Emoke Bebiak |
NEW YORK (dpa) – The National September 11 Memorial Museum, located 20 metres under the ground and enveloped by concrete walls and cold rocks, might be one of the darkest museums in the world.
The museum, which pays tribute to the victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, is meant to be a place for grieving, remembrance and hope. However, it has also become a place of controversy.
“We wanted to give the attack a face,” said Anthony Guido, spokesman for the museum. “Almost 3,000 victims: that’s a shocking and, at the same time, a very abstract number. They were mothers and fathers, who never came home again. Or sons and daughters, who never called again. Or they were firemen, who simply wanted to help.”
Since it opened in May, the museum has attracted more than 900,000 visitors and expects to reach its 1 millionth visitor by the 13th anniversary of the attacks coming up on Thursday.
In preparation for the anniversary, a new exhibition was unveiled Sunday documenting the years-long hunt for Osama bin Laden, former al-Qaeda leader who orchestrated the attacks on New York.
The exhibit features, among others, a shirt worn by a member of US Navy SEAL Team 6 that killed bin Laden in a 2011 raid in Pakistan. While the museum will remain closed for the day on the anniversary, this year will mark the first time that the 9/11 Memorial plaza, located above the museum, will be open to the public for part of the day instead of only for victims’ families.
After a private commemoration for victims’ families, the plaza will open to everyone from 6 pm (2200 GMT) to midnight, allowing visitors to see the annual Tribute in Light, an art installation with two powerful lights representing the twin towers, from a new vantage point.
Another art installation featuring 2,983 pieces of paper hangs on one wall of the museum. Each piece, painted with a different hue of blue, represents a victim. The piece created by New York-based artist Spencer Finch is called “Trying To Remember the Colour of the Sky on That September Morning.”
In a room, video portraits of the victims are projected on a screen. Elsewhere are pictures of the victims’ faces. In some they are laughing, as if the pictures were taken during a vacation. In others, the faces are serious because the photo was made for an official document such as a driver’s license. This diversity that makes the exhibition so human and so tangible.
Despite the public interest in the memorial, which attracts visitors from around the world, the museum, which cost 700 million dollars, has been the subject of controversy even before its opening. Shortly before the unveiling of the museum, the partial remains of 1,115 victims, which were never identified. These remains were placed in a space beneath the museum, which several victims’ families protested as disrespectful.
The museum’s 24-dollar entrance fee also has been criticized, and the tastefulness of merchandise sold in its bookstore with a 9/11 symbol, including ties, purses, hats and umbrellas, has been questioned.
“We do not pretend to do everything right,” said Joe Daniels, the memorial’s president. “We accept the criticism.”