My fascination with the Statue of Liberty started when I was a small child and left home with my grandmother while my older siblings were taken to visit her. That fascination grew into a love affair when, as a young adult, I saw her unveiled from her renovation in 1986 at the end of my street in Brooklyn. Later, living in Jersey City, I celebrated my children’s birthdays in her shadow in Liberty State Park. Now I watch her face changing as the sun moves across her face while sailing in the harbor that surrounds her. She has always represented what I believed was good about this country. While I always knew our democracy was not perfect and that great inequalities existed, like so many of us lately I have been realizing the magnitude of our faults and pondering the lies that her torch has blinded me to.
The location of the statue was chosen by Designer Frederic Auguste Bartholdi on a trip to the United States from France. He chose the island because it was visible to all sailing into the United States. One can hardly glance at a foam hat mimicking her seven pointed crown and not think of the thousands of immigrants who first gained sight of her at the end a long journey ending where they expected their lives to improve tenfold. She represented that hope and that promise to all of those weary travelers….at least those fortunate enough to enter the country on ships they chose to get on.
Bartholdi chose the island, which had been ceded by New York State to the federal government in 1880 for harbor defense, because it was a “land common to all states”. He thought that fact was symbolic of these United States coming together to fulfill the promise of a land where all men are created equal. This promise seems to never have been fully realized.
I only recently learned that Lady Liberty is stepping over broken chains. This detail is obscured by her robes and impossible to see from the ground. Bratholdi initially thought to have her hold a broken chain in her hand but decided that would be too divisive so close to the end of the Civil War. Even then concessions were made to the rich and powerful for the sake of political reconciliation.
These images are made as an examination of the how I have been viewing my country from my privileged perch. As I circle the statue and consider different viewpoints I am considering how we, as a nation, can help make the idealisms she represents closer to our everyday reality.