Montage of Pure Grief Is Rejected As Memorial to Terrorism Victims

By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The statues grimace, scream, tear at their hair and skin. Several have collapsed in agony. Others cry and rage at the heavens.

There are 76 of them -- oversize figures of women, most modeled from real life and depicting the moment they learned that their loved ones had been killed in the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

All are nudes. Or as their creator prefers to put it, they are "stripped" or "unclothed" in the equality of anguish.

Yesterday New York sculptor Suse Lowenstein, herself one of the models, went before the National Capital Memorials Advisory Commission to argue that her wrenching sculpture, "Dark Elegy," should become a national memorial to victims of terrorism, located in Washington.

During an emotional hearing attended by weeping relatives of those who perished in the 1988 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, Lowenstein and her supporters contended that the women of "Dark Elegy" were as heroic as figures in existing memorials and could one day become national icons.

But the seven members of the commission, which advises the federal government on commemorative works in and around Washington, unanimously rejected the proposal.

They said they feared that the nude statues might offend some sensibilities, might be liable to coarse vandalism and might be too specific to Lockerbie to serve as a memorial to victims of all terrorism attacks.

Afterward, Lowenstein said she was not surprised, but she dismissed the commission's concerns about the sculpture, which was completed three years ago. "These figures are not explicit," she said, and they would not invite vandals. "It's ludicrous."

Carole G. Johnson of Greensburg, Pa., who lost her daughter Beth Ann, 21, on the flight, attributed the decision on the commission's desire to please everyone. "There's no way you're going to get general agreement among everyone," she said.

Johnson, who sobbed during parts of the hearing and wore a pendant containing her daughter's picture, was one of the scores of models Lowenstein asked to reenact the instant they learned their loved one's fate.

"My figure is one of me throwing the phone," Johnson said.

The members of the commission, which represents the National Park Service, the District, the Commission of Fine Arts, the National Capital Planning Commission and other agencies, were sympathetic and moved by the testimony.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company