Peace Gorilla Sculpture Welcomes All, including the Blind and Visually Impaired

“Public art is for everyone,” says artist Noa Bornstein, who recently  attached a tactile QR code linked to an audio recording on the base of her  bronze sculpture on display in the historic UN gateway, Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, through August. “Many venues  discourage visitors from touching objects of art, but Peace Gorilla welcomes human touch.” 

The gorilla’s outstretched arm elicits “high-fives” from  park visitors while kids delight in climbing  on her  body. The word “Friend” is cast in 90 languages on the concrete base, and Bornstein is always exploring  ways to engage the public through playful interaction. 

To make the popular sculpture user-friendly to the blind and visually impaired, Bornstein consulted with disability specialists. Then during a week of Earth Day celebrations, three visually impaired musicians from the Lions Club LB Band, escorted by Joy Bieder, a Certified Orientation and Mobility specialist, assembled on a bench next to Peace Gorilla  and after a spirited drum session, held  their cell phones to the  tactile QR code and listened to Bornstein’s recorded  description.  Julie Spodnick, a Certified Vision Rehab Teacher assisted. She and  Joy Bieder  also work for VISIONS/Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired. 

Lions Club LB Band: Musicans Robert Weeks, Alex Barrera, Braulio Thorne

What’s next? A label in Braille and English will be mounted next to the  tactile QR code, which was  produced in brass by Visual Mechanics, a neighbor of Bornstein’s studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn  

The tactile QR code was suggested by Nitza Danieli, who works as a contract artist educator with the visually impaired at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Bornstein also consulted with Maia Scott, a blind artist and teacher in San Francisco,  and actress Dawn Del Orbe, who records audio guides for museums. The “look but don’t touch” rule is giving way to more inclusive approaches. Some exhibits include “beacons ” that emit pleasant natural sounds to guide the  blind to a location. 

Also on display through August are three sculptures of larger-than-life  human figures by Jim Rennert curated by Sherrill Kazan, president of Friends of Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, in collaboration with NYC Parks Arts & Antiquities. 

“Public art is  a universal language and integral to the city’s renewal. Both exhibits invite public interaction,” says Kazan. “It’s fitting that Peace Gorilla is located in this hub of diversity, a park named after Nobel Peace Laureate Dag Hammarskjold,  the second Secretary General of the United Nations.” 

Dag Hammarskjold Plaza is located on East 47th Street between UN Plaza (1st Ave.) and 2nd Ave, Manhattan. Public art exhibitions are organized through NYC Art in the Parks.

(CLICK ON THIS LINK): Photos and Video – Peace Gorilla Says (noabornstein.com)

ARTIST’S DESCRIPTION OF PEACE GORILLA

Sculpture: Bronze, 45” h x 48” x 48”, 400 lbs

Base: Concrete, 8” h x 48” x 48”, 400 lbs

On the top of the base, “Friend” in the six official languages of the United Nations appears under the title “Peace Gorilla”followed by the subtitle: “Shalom, Salaam, Tomodachi” (“Hello, Peace, Friend,” in Hebrew, Arabic, and Japanese). These are the words that Bornstein, a perpetual language student, seemed to hear as the gorilla “reached out her arm” during the process of creation. 

The word “Friend” in 90 languages is set into the four sides and top of the base  from templates made by Visual Mechanics. The concrete base was created by Oso Industries with assistance from Wellstone NYC Custom Woodworking—all neighbors of Bornstein in the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center (GMDC). The original gorilla was made of sisal fiber and burlap in structolite and plaster over wire mesh and metal. The bronze casting was produced at Bedi-Makky Art Foundry in Greenpoint Brooklyn, using the traditional French sand-casting method.(GMDC). 

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