Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ghost Stroller: The Power of Memorial Art

memorial art

What is it that makes a baby stroller, painted white, and padlocked to a street sign in Brooklyn, a national and even an international news story?  This is the power of memorial art.  It is a force that commands our attention in a humble, but confrontational manner.  It is an idea that captivates us, enticing us to confront and ponder issues that make us very uncomfortable.
We may have never seen something like this, and may never know the exact circumstances that brought it about, but somehow we understand the statement intuitively and  immediately.

memorial art

In November 2008, I posted a story about the roadside memorials put up by families after traffic fatalities.  Whether we see these memorials as a touching reminder, a grim warning, or an inappropriate use of public land, we can all agree that they send an arresting and instantly recognizable emotional message.

memorial art

Ghost Bikes take this message one step further.  The bicycle, painted white and chained to a street sign, has become a memorial symbol, now used worldwide to commemorate the tragic traffic death of a bicyclist.  It is both a memorial and a protest, warning motorist of the tragic consequences of being careless about those who share the roads with them.  

memorial art

Here is an example of a memorial with a message about pedestrian fatalities, posted in my August 2009 article about graffiti memorials.  This Portuguese public awareness campaign uses the names of pedestrian victims of auto accidents to make up the bars of crosswalks

Memorial Art

Which brings us back to the stroller.  I find it remarkable that this single stroller in Brooklyn has caught the attention of CBS news, The Today Show,, Vanity Fair, The New York Times, and many others.  It  made news when it left it's first location, and again when it reappeared in another spot.  The news stories are full of questions about the originating circumstances and theories about the social, political or personal message it was intended to make.  There is no question, however about it's impact on viewers.  They know somehow that this is a memorial.  It may be a 'hoax', a social statement, or a personal memorial, but it's broader message seems to be that babies have been lost in our culture due to the carelessness of parents and motorists alike.  No matter how much we choose to look away from it; death, even the death of children, is a very real part of everyday life, and we must come to terms with it.

Memorial art

Despite all the conjecture over whether this stroller is a 'hoax', the same statement has been made whether it is a real or imagined child or children, that inspired it.  And all it took was one stroller, some paint, a chain, and a padlock.  So, what is it that makes this piece powerful enough to garner all this attention?
It is the gift that art brings to a memorial expression.  It is the creativity to place an ordinary object in a slightly different way into our everyday lives that wakes us up to the reality of our mortality.  This is the same gift that art brings to individual memorial expressions.  It is the creative organization of service details and the encouragement of family participation that makes a service unforgettable, or a monument resonate with meaning.  This is what art adds to the experience of mourning and grief, and it is a powerful and healing force.

For more stories on remarkable memorials, visit:

1 comment:

pr said...

Great, great piece, Pat.

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