Though very successful in China as a magazine art editor, Yang Yi decided to move to New York in 1995 to join his brother. He eventually found his way to a perch in Central Park, where he made a living drawing caricatures.
As Yi recounts in the South China Morning Post magazine, everything changed for him – like so many others – as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks:
A month after 9/11, I went to work at a shopping mall in upstate New York. So many people came to me holding pictures of their loved ones who had died at Ground Zero and asked me to do portraits. That experience changed my view of Americans. I had always thought individualism was dominant in American culture and that Americans were self-centered. But 9/11 showed me how much people care about their country.
Yi became a U.S. citizen in 2005 and five years later, was inspired by the sight of a mural on the side of a Flushing firehouse to create his own tribute to 9/11. For the next five years, he would work on a mural depicting the 343 firefighters and parademics killed that horrible day.
In this, a year during which he was divorced and lost custody of his nine-year-old son, Yi has no place to display his five-paneled project. The artwork sits stacked, in his bedroom. There’s not much time until the anniversary, but perhaps in the next day or two, someone will offer a space to display the work.