Monday, January 28, 2013


Photo from
How do you remember a tsunami?
Do you memorialize the victims?
Do you commemorate the towering and enraged seas that obliterated everything before them?
Do you attempt to make the memorials that will last forever, knowing that in fact nothing survives nature's fury?
Do you put them at the site of the devastation- or somewhere safer, somewhere less soaked in tragic memories?   

The range of answers to these questions fascinate me.
The Indian Ocean tsunami claimed 283,000 lives in 2004. Unimaginable in scale, it touched people worldwide. Two years later, in 2006, the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture in Bangkok and the Phuket called artists worldwide to create a memorial for three locations, including Kamala, one of the hardest hit places in Thailand.

 Thai sculptor Udon Jinaksa work, Heart of the Universe got the nod as the centerpiece of Kamala's memorial. It’s 30 feet high. The woven wire creates a huge circular form like a mighty crashing wave, so recalls the power of the sea in recalling its victims.
Louise Bourgeois (who was 96 at the time) interpreted things quite differently.  Her Hold Me Close in Hat Nopparat National Park features three bronze hands raised out of waves, grasping for one another.  She meant for it to be placed among trees near a pond.
In 2010, though, it was deteriorating due to its proximity to the sea, and the Thai government  removed it for repairs. At that time, they tried to contact her about appearing in another event called "Imagining Peace", and learned that she had died. Thus, all of her work became much more valuable. They debated about returning it to its original spot since it might easily be stolen there. The people of the area insisted that it be returned to its original stance, though. They felt removing it, even temporarily, dishonored her and the victims it was meant to remember. Eventually, the government did return it, unrepaired, to its original home.
1.4 km (about a mile) off the coast of Phi Phi Island, another area that was hit so hard in 2004, stands the only underwater memorial to the 2004 tsunami. 60 feet under water, it can only be seen by divers, though its locations is marked by bright yellow bouys. It consists of 3 granite markers about 150cm high. There is a smaller marker dead center. They represent the elements of eath, wind and water- the elements of any tsunami.

Officials in Thailand, hope that the memorial will lure divers and snorkelers back to the Phi Phi Islands. "The three pyramids represent the three elements of earth, wind and water. Man must keep all three of these elements in natural balance; otherwise the forces of nature will restore the balance themselves. We hope the monument will serve as a reminder of the need to maintain ecological balance," a spokeswoman said.

High reliefs have their place in remembering the victims. Yunan Province in China hosts a bronze medallion with lvie faces on once side, and, on the obverse, the same faces, but obviously floating and dead. It's immensly moving piece from Laury Dizengremel.

Some monuments are ephemeral, but while they exist, they are powerful- maybe because they recognize nature’s power to reclaim them.
Help Me, Help Me  was one of them. It was a sand scultpure of an incredibly realistic hand clawing out of the waves with the words ”Help Me” written at the end of the finger tips. For those who came on this giant work, it was startling and movieng. Of course it was swept into the sea as were the victims it commemorated.

In Japan, the 2011 tsunami that wreaked such devastation had another type of emphemeral reminder. Ice scultpures, some of birds rising from the earth and another of figures in the mist, haunted those who saw them, remembering the tragic loss of life behind them.

Photo from
And then there are the most pwoerful monuments of all- the informal messages tacked by survivors to rmember their loved ones.

Tsunami sculptures can also do more than memorialize past events.
James Kelsey, a Washington State sculptor, was moved by the 2004 tsunami, but was inspired by the tsunami evacuations signs in the area to create his own version. His website says, ”My own mother now lives on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Every time I visit, I can't help but notice the warning signs every other block. The motion created in this piece is as if a wave crashing down upon the shore was frozen in time. I sometimes dread the raw power of our earth, but this piece isn't born of that fear, instead, it comes from the awe and wonder of the power in nature.”

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