33. The Girl Puzzle on Roosevelt Island

The Girl Puzzle installation
The Girl Puzzle on Roosevelt Island. Photo by Irina Hage.

Located on Roosevelt Island is The Girl Puzzle, a monument installation by artist Amanda Matthews paying tribute to Nellie Bly. Over the course of her life, Bly worked as a journalist, women’s rights activist, suffragist, World War II correspondent, inventor/patent holder, industrialist, and humanitarian. Above all else, she strived to write stories exposing the struggles of marginalized individuals like herself and pushed for equality and progress, especially for women. In particular, The Girl Puzzle was inspired by Bly’s 1885 response to bigotry and her 1887 seminal work, Ten Days in a Mad-House, in which she exposed the deplorable living conditions she witnessed at the Blackwell Island Asylum on Roosevelt Island, which she gained access to by feigning insanity. 

To highlight Bly’s legacy, The Girl Puzzle presents the faces of other women who have endured hardship in their lives and were made stronger because of it. In the center of the monument is a bust of Bly’s face cast in silver bronze and three silver globes representing her journalism career. Surrounding Bly’s face and the silver globes are four additional busts cast in bronze representing Asian American, Black, young, older, and queer women, each rendered in partial sections to appear like giant puzzle pieces. The faces express the deep emotion of being both broken and repaired and allow the audience to interact with the reflective surfaces and imagine the different parts of the face coming together. In addition, Bly’s words are engraved behind each woman, representing the spirit and complexity of women and the stories they have to tell.