Engaged Faculty Spotlight: Tribute in Light

This month we spotlight a faculty member and artist whose work engages communities and viewers in reflection and memory.
September 9, 2021

Paul Myoda, Associate Professor of Visual Art and Japanese-American sculptor, is well known for a body of work that plays with light in its physical and symbolic forms. For Myoda, sculpture is an opportunity to accentuate balance and beauty between the organic and the built environment. Guiding his praxis, Myoda asks of himself, his students, and artists broadly, “How, and why, and where must we shine our light? What must we try to make visible which, without our efforts, cannot otherwise be seen?” 

This month, we focus on one of Myoda’s most impactful public artworks, Tribute in Light, first illuminated twenty years ago in memory of September 11, 2001. The artwork was conceived of by Myoda and artist Julian LaVerdiere who were compelled to do something as New Yorkers in response to the devastating attacks. Together, they designed a commemorative piece that would both honor the lives lost on 9/11 and celebrate the spirit and resiliency of New Yorkers as they rebuilt their city. Myoda describes the idea for the work as emanating from a moment of disbelief as he “looked upon the clouds of rancid smoke emerging from the site of the World Trade Center'' and felt an undeniable absence — “a phantom limb” of the city. 

In collaboration with NYC-based public arts organizations Creative Time and The Municipal Art Society of New York, Myoda and a team of artists got to work developing plans and blueprints for the memorial. For Myoda, a great benefit to working with the non-profits was that the group was able to “organize meetings with city and state leaders, those tasked with the recovery efforts, utility companies, but most important for us, a number of victims’ family organizations which were created shortly following 9/11.” 

Tribute in Light features twin beams extending four miles upward toward the sky and that are viewable within a 60-mile radius of lower Manhattan, a revenant of the Twin Towers and a reminder of human togetherness. 

Since its inception, Tribute in Light has been illuminated annually from dusk till dawn on September 11th with the exception of 2020 as a result of the pandemic. When asked what feelings the 20th anniversary conjures up and what this collaborative project has meant for him personally, Myoda responded: “I think Oscar Wilde has the best analogy to understand an artwork: he likens it to a child, with the artist being the parent who gives birth to it, cares for it and protects it while it develops, but at a certain point, it goes off into the world to have a life of its own. This is how I see the Tribute in Light—I am still a very proud parent, but it has a life of its own, a life I never could have imagined.”