On Sept. 11, as television images bombarded the American consciousness with the terrible news from New York City and Washington, Kentucky fiber artist Arturo Alonzo Sandoval was as shocked as his fellow countrymen. “I could not understand the logic, that people can exist as these terrorists do,” he said from his Lexington, Ky., studio.
But Sandoval may have felt a more bitter edge because for him the destruction seemed a too-real expression of prophetic art he has been creating in the past decade.
His “Ground Zero” series, begun in 1984, was inspired by world events and by prophecy found in the New Testament
and the writings of 16th century visionary Nostradamus mingled with current events, said Sandoval, longtime professor of art at the University of Kentucky and a nationally honored artist.
“I always look to see how I can be creative in context with contemporary times. I like to think of myself as an artist who looks forward, not backward.”
Of particular significance was his work, Lady Liberty/Babylon II - Double Terrorist, a multimedia quilt built around images of the World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty in flames. It was created in 1990, three years before the first attack on the twin towers, in a body of work that incorporates other terrifying images created in fiber, paper, Cibachrome, found objects, and paint and ink.
Images include hooded terrorists, targets, flames, and the American flag. The works are colorful and rich in texture, beautiful yet threatening.
“I didn't want to make people fearful but to remind them that terrorism has not gone away, that you never know what's next,” Sandoval said. The quilt won a prize for innovation at the 1993 Quilt National show.
But on Sept. 11, 2001, the artist was devastated. “I wept uncontrollably. All that work of mine is coming to be.”
On New York's Upper West Side, another artist, cartoonist-illustrator Peter Cooper, saw the smoke billow from the ruins of the World Trade Center. Later, he visited the site in Lower Manhattan.
Although he had never created art to depict such a catastrophe, he said “the scene had a strange quality of being something I had already pictured.”
Now, he says, “I'm moving from shell-shock to grieving to examination,” he said.
And he, like many other artists, are wondering how they will appropriately depict this huge event.
Although Sandoval's Ground Zero series was wrapped up years ago, today it is startlingly to the point, disturbing in its realism. “It was my hope that it would never manifest. Who knows, maybe this isn't the final event.”