10 Years + Counting: Artists Challenge the Dangerous Path Taken By America in the Years After 9/11

The legacy of 9/11, now a decade upon us, can seem less comprehensible the longer we live it. We’ve been in Afghanistan longer than we were in Vietnam, and yet the quagmire that 9/11 wrought is endless. It’s symbolic that Ground Zero has yet to be rebuilt—in a way, the unresolved nature of its legacy makes it too soon for a monument.

But, as ever, artists act as a beacon for our darkest times, and help us untangle truth from webs of lies and confusion. As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, we will reflect on the art that has done so through the decade. There was the Coup’s Party Music, whose album art eerily portrayed the WTC’s demise before it occurred, but whose hip-hop gave voice to the disenfranchisement we would experience in Bush’s response to the attack. There was all sorts of angry protest art after the Iraq invasion, from people ranging from the Dixie Chicks to Sleater-Kinney. Green Day’s American Idiot became a hit Broadway musical partly on the strength, remarkably, of the line "Seig Heil to the President." The examples are poignant and endless.

But as Grammy winners and internationally renowned artists interpret 9/11, some of the most impactful stories—like the tragedy itself—come from ordinary people. Seeing the need for a unified, organized outlet to spotlight artists both armchair and professional, the arts group 10 Years + Counting emerged, aiming to reinterpret the events from a years-long nightmare into something active, positive and cathartic. Once again, the artists are ahead of the game, drawing on their transformative power to change the future. From 10 Years + Counting’s mission statement:

10 Years + Counting invites artists and others to take this historic moment as inspiration and use the power of creativity to illustrate the costs of war and image a more peaceful world. Paint it, dance it, sculpt it, write it, sing it! Imagine peace and create connections. Concerts, public art projects, garden parties, bake-offs, gallery exhibitions, street art, flash mobs, walks and runs: the possibilities are endless. Turn the weeks of this anniversary of devastation into an unstoppable, irrepressible explosion of imagining the possible, a new beginning.

By creating a hub where everyone, anyone can participate, they’re giving us all a chance to alter 9/11 and its aftereffects, and to aid the process of healing.

Planned for 9/11/11 through 10/7/11, 

10YAC has already amassed over 100 artists and 500 activities for the event, and they are not catholic about the medium. Their blog shows just a small portion of the range of styles and ideas they’ll be unrolling, from plaintive Baghdad poetry from Jody Bolz, to an inspiring essay about the defense budget by a high school blogger, to a silent, abstract composition called “Drone for Peace in the Key of F,” presented on the steps of a legislative building in Olympia, Washington.

Their galleries visualize the incalculable costs of war through images both elegiac and enraged. Wafaa Bilal has his back tattooed with a mapping of American and Iraqi casualties (including his brother)—the former in visible red ink, the latter in invisible UV ink. Rajkamal Kahlon invokes Harold Pinter’s poem “Death” in a series of ink drawings on marbled U.S. Military Autopsy Reports from Iraq and Afghanistan. Nancy Buchanan’s collaborative Sleep Secure "virtual tax dollars quilt" pieces together Internet images corresponding to federal budget categories that prioritize war over health and welfare.

And Fanny Retsek prints the pitiful number of trailer homes provided to a burgeoning number of Iraqi war widows. Each picture may be worth 1,000 words but tells only part of the heartbreaking story that is war. 10YAC wants to build the plot, to narrate a new story of peace that is not fictional. It provides tool kits, film lists, downloadable posters, event checklists to generate this story. You can register or find an event to contribute to the momentum, to an ending that need not be tragic.

Begun by activists involved with the Cost of War, a project at New York’s Blue Mountain Center, the project has grown from an idea to a “grassroots community of artists, journalists, academics, veterans, educators, and organizations from around the US, committed to exposing the true costs of war and working towards a more peaceful world.” While they maintain a ticker of the amount the US wars since 9/11 have cost us (at the time of this typing, $1,227,769,541,826 and counting), 10 Years and Counting steps away a bit from the gloominess of the facts and allows us to be reverent, to be celebratory, and to creatively find ways to take back our country.

Further, they are encouraging activism as a participatory, lifelong thing that individuals can create in their own images. The project is a democratic open call, which really underscores the heart of 10 Years + Counting. Whereas the world has become tighter, more paranoid, gated-in since 9/11, they’re encouraging free exchange, an open conversation, and community as a way to overcome the dangerous path America has been on since.

It’s inspiring and visionary—a real way for us to unite in a time that will surely be sullied by calls to jingoism and disharmony. But no matter how many voices call for us to devolve further into a terrified police state, 10 Years and Counting reminds us that we can drown them out.

To participate, go to 10 Years and Counting here.

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