At first, I found it difficult to read the text on the pillar of “Borders,” the 3-D artwork by Nate Lattimore. But maybe that was intended. I was looking between what could have been the slats of a fence at the text of “The New Colossus,” the poem by Emma Lazarus. It is the poem visitors can read on a plaque inside the base of the Statue of Liberty, and includes these famous lines:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”
The thought-provoking sculpture is as much a question as a statement. The tall shining pillar on which the text of the poem is fixed holds the shining ideal of liberty up for our highest aspiration. But the fence-like wall which encloses it makes the viewer wonder whether such liberty will be available to those who reach our shores by ship or cross our borders on foot. We might even wonder if such liberty can reach all those who are already citizens of the United States.
Artprize Seven is happening at a time of energetic and often angry discussion about immigration in the United States. One famous voice in the debate is loudly proclaiming that the hoards entering our country must be shut out with a great wall.
The Colossus of Rhodes was built in the third century A.D. to celebrate victory in war. The “New Colossus,” the Statue of Liberty, was built in the nineteenth century to celebrate welcoming others to a country where liberty and opportunity was meant for everyone. In the twenty-first century, will we build yet another Colossus, one that says we have changed our mind?
The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus
(printed on a bronze plaque and displayed inside
the lower level of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty):
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.