On September 11, 2001, Makoto Fujimura was attending an artists' prayer meeting in Uptown Manhattan when he heard of an accident at the Twin Towers, three blocks from where he lived with his family. Jumping on the subway toward his home, he found himself stuck underground, incommunicado for the next two hours while hell broke out in the streets above. He finally emerged to smoke and ash and a flood of fleeing workers. Running against the tide, he reached his studio ten blocks north of Ground Zero, where he found his wife and learned that his three children were safe, covered with ash but spared.

In the weeks that followed, only residents were allowed into the area near Ground Zero. Fujimura found himself talking with shell-shocked neighbors over endless cups of coffee. Many were artists. "There were candles popping up everywhere [as impromptu memorials]. We wanted to do something, too, temporary, authentic, broken, revealing where we were." For Fujimura, those conversations deepened thoughts that had begun with the Columbine disaster. "What is it that we have to deal with, this dehumanized reality that we are living in? What is the role of imagination in that?" One response was TriBeCa Temporary, a space Fujimura created in which local artists could create experimentally to restore wholeness.

Fujimura creates large, shimmering abstract paintings using a traditional Japanese technique called Nihonga. At the age of 13, his family moved from Tokyo to New Jersey, where his father, a linguistic scientist, worked at the storied Bell Labs. "Mako," as Fujimura is known, attributes some of his love of visual communication to the frustration he felt learning English from scratch. Returning to Japan for graduate studies in fine arts, ...

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