Recognized as a hero for his quick actions, Wesley Autrey, a construction worker, was in the New York City subway one fateful day in 2007 when he noticed a man start convulsing before falling onto the train tracks. With only a moment’s notice, Autrey jumped onto the tracks to cover the man with his body — right as the train rolled into the station — saving his life. Now, Autrey and four other everyday heroes are being celebrated as part of a pop-up monument called Protector Monuments: Reclaim The Pedestal, which debuted today in Union Square.
The force behind the exhibition is the organization I Am Your Protector, which aims to transcend perceived divisions between different communities in the hopes of changing the way people view “others.” To do so, I Am Your Protector shares the stories of our society’s greatest protectors, regardless of their group affiliations, as a form of inspiring other people to go out and give back to their communities.
Around eight feet tall and made of styrofoam with a fiberglass epoxy coating, the sculptures in Protector Monuments: Reclaim The Pedestal are intended to help reclaim public spaces for people of color, minorities, refugees, immigrants, and women. To elevate the sculptures they have each been placed on 3-foot high pedestals, ensuring that the subjects are looked up to by society.
The sculptures were created by Joseph Reginella with the help of sculptor Alvin Petit. New York City is no stranger to the work of Reginella, who previously showcased humorous pop-up sculptures ranging in subject matter from a mysterious Staten Island Ferry boat attack by a giant octopus. the Brooklyn Bridge elephant stampede, the tourists taken by wolves, and the alien abduction of a tugboat,
Originally, Protector Monuments: Reclaim The Pedestal, was set to be displayed in July 2020 but was pushed back due to COVID-19. One hurdle faced by the creators of the sculptures was securing proper photographs of the subjects. With most living abroad or far away from the city, it was difficult to procure adequate photographs depicting every angle of the subject’s bodies, which are crucial when creating a sculpture in someone’s likeness. To get around this, Reginella and Petit relied on references from other people with a similar body type during the sculpting process. When asked about the impact he hopes his sculptures will have, Reginella responded with this simple, but powerful statement: “We’re all together on this Earth and we should look out for each other.”
The five individuals memorialized in the sculptures are Wesley Autrey (who was at the installation today, shown above), Isra Daraiseh, who worked tirelessly to provide residents affected during the 2016 Flint Water Crisis with fresh drinking water, filters, educational material, free lead testing and additional money, Chaim Hochhouser, who has helped lead Shomrim, a local Jewish security patrol group that also protects mosques in the London Hackney area, Mohsen Alwais, a Syrian refugee, known for jumping into freezing cold water to rescue a man who fell into one of Amsterdam’s canals during the winter of 2016, and Antonio Diaz Chacon, a 23-year old undocumented Mexican immigrant, who chased down an alleged child abductor, saving a 6-year-old girl after the suspect crashed his car into a traffic pole and fled the scene. Chacon’s actions would eventually help the police catch and arrest the subject.
In addition to the five sculptures, a sixth pedestal will also be displayed, but left empty, so visitors can share their unique stories and those of individuals who have helped or protected others. Over the following weeks, the sculptures will be moved to various currently undisclosed locations in New York City, before traveling across the country to other cities such as Nashville, San Francisco, and Washington D.C.
For Dani Laurence, co-founder of I Am Your Protector: “Who we put on a pedestal tells a story and is symbolic of what we value in society. I had been thinking of a way to tell positive stories of refugees and minorities — a way that would be most memorable and it came to me. Statues are both material and conceptual helping us depict how we see ourselves and others.”