New World Trade Center Mural Highlights 'Men At Work'

By Julie Shapiro on September 14, 2011 6:32pm 

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The "Men At Work" mural along Liberty Street.
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Maya Barkai

LOWER MANHATTAN — A new mural at the World Trade Center uses 148 pictures to convey three words: Men At Work.

Running 1,000 feet along Liberty and Church streets, the mural features the silhouettes of construction workers found on "Men At Work" street signs in 148 cities around the world.

Artist Maya Barkai has been collecting the images for years, transfixed by the subtle variations in the signs from country to country.

The figure from Taipei, Taiwan, wears a pointed hat, while the one from Amsterdam wears a newsboy cap. Some of the signs — like the ones from Lima, Peru, and Bangkok, Thailand — show only figures holding shovels, while the worker from Ulan Bator, Mongolia, is bent over a mound of dirt nearly as tall as he is.

"[The mural] is an ongoing investigation into the fundamental components that together form our urban landscape as it evolves and changes over time,” Barkai, who was born in Jerusalem and moved to New York in 2002, said in a statement.

"Taking the icons out of context of the local traffic sign and into a collage of unique cultural representations, leaves us to reveal their differences, and provokes the viewer to wonder about the way societies choose to embrace their visual graphic heritage."

Other cities represented in the mural include the familiar Havana, Berlin and Sydney — along with the lesser-known Chernivtsi in Ukraine, Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, and Torshavn in the Faroe Islands.

This is Barkai's second public art project Downtown. The first, called "Walking Men 99," is a collage of figures found on "Walk" signs from around the world and first appeared on the fence surrounding 99 Church St. in January 2010, drawing wide acclaim.

The Downtown Alliance, which installed both murals through its Re:Construction program that beautifies construction sites, decided to place Barkai's new artwork at the one place in lower Manhattan where there are the most men and women working: the World Trade Center.

The mural wraps around part of developer Larry Silverstein's rising 4 World Trade Center, and the figures also parade across an adjacent sidewalk shed on Liberty Street.

"Maya’s work captures the spirit of Lower Manhattan and New Yorkers’ enthusiasm for rebuilding the World Trade Center,” Silverstein said in a statement. "It also pays tribute to the thousands of men and women involved in this historic effort."

Barkai is still accepting submissions of "Working Men" signs from around the globe. She hopes to use the images in future projects.

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