She moved to New York on 9/11 — and 19 years later, artist Josana Blue isn’t going anywhere.
Rather, she’s creating artwork to show her great love for her adopted hometown — and to boost spirits during the pandemic.
Earlier this summer, she mounted a fanciful display from the backyard-facing fire escape of her Bushwick home, celebrating the resilient spirit of the city.
Draped in a 36-foot skirt made of silk-like electric-blue and yellow segments, Blue was photographed against hand-sewn banners reading “Hope” and “Love” that took her and a few assistants three days to create.
“I created this to speak to how I believe in this great city,” Blue, 42, said. “We’re all hopeful together. It’s what brought us together in 2001 and what’s going to unite us now.
“Every single person is affected by this crisis on some level and everyone can use that message of hope.”
It’s not the first time the bruised city has served as muse for the artist. Her first art piece post-9/11 was a large-scale triptych painting on canvas inspired by the tragedy. “It’s the city in turmoil,” she said of the abstract piece that now hangs in her building’s lobby.
On Sept. 10, 2001, 23-year-old Blue packed her belongings into her “beat up” Honda Civic for a move to NYC from the West Virginia college she had recently graduated from.
She reached Manhattan in the pre-dawn hours of Sept. 11. She said she’ll never forget the dazzling skyline on that perfectly clear Tuesday that greeted her while she drove down the West Side Highway.
“The radio was blaring, the windows were down and I literally stuck my head out the window and said, ‘There’s the city; there’s the Towers,’ ” said Blue, who was set to start a master of arts program at NYU later that day. “I slowed down and took it all in. The sweep of the city was overwhelming. I was absolutely bursting with excitement and nerves.”
It was, of course, the last time Blue would see it like that.
She was at the home of a friend in Bay Ridge when the first plane hit the north tower and she watched in horror on TV as the second plane struck. Walking over to the nearby waterfront with direct views of lower Manhattan, she saw it “completely engulfed in smoke.”
Her parents pleaded with her to come back to her native Maine — but she wasn’t ready to turn her back on NYC just yet. “Or turn my back on myself,” she said. “I came to New York for a reason.”
She started her grad program a few weeks later, and found comfort and courage in her fellow New Yorkers. “People I barely knew said, ‘How can I help? What can I do?’ I felt hugged and protected — the energy of the people was palpable.
“I felt connected to the city, to the people,” she continued, “and I just wanted to be strong like everyone else. That’s how you survive here.”
It’s an important lesson for today’s trials, said Blue. “Everything now is so intense and scary. We’re scared of the virus, we’re scared of violence, of looting.”
Now it’s her turn to help the vulnerable during a tragedy.
Though she was furloughed from her longtime position for Ralph Lauren, where she worked on its fanciful windows, Blue was determined to give back during the coronavirus crisis. She made some 5,000 masks for hospitals and those in need, working full time for months.
“This is the best job I’ve ever had and I made zero dollars,” she said.
“No matter how tough this place is, we rise up and create our great visions together with all of our hearts. We got through 9/11 together and we’ll get through this together.”
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