Footprints: Understanding and remembering Eleven

Eleven on Elysian Fields (Photo by: Lea Abecassis)

Throughout history, alternative forms of communication have evolved. In her journal In This Issue: The Exquisite and Urgent Importance of Art, Patricia C Phillips states that we are, “At a moment when art, craft design, new technologies and a robust do it yourself culture energetically coexist…” [1]In other words, we live in a world in which the means for creating art are endless, and with these endless opportunities, various forms of art exist. Take, for instance, Deepwater Horizon sculpture Eleven, which is dedicated to honoring the men who were tragically killed in the BP oil accident that occurred in 2010.[2] 

The industrial catastrophe that occurred  on April 20, 2010 left eleven men dead due to an enormous oil explosion in the Gulf of Mexico[1] . Prior to the incident however, crew members were instructed to conduct a safety procedure in which they “pumped cement to the bottom of the borehole…intended to prevent oil from leaking out.”[3] 

Michael Manjarris, co-creator of Eleven, stated that he had met the father of one of the victims of the accident and was so tremendously impacted by the father’s story that he felt inclined to create a sculpture in order to honor this event.  The father of one of the victims told Manjarris that he was disappointed by how quickly people had forgotten about the fallen men in this tragic incident. [4]Fast forward three years later, eleven statues stand tall in the heart of New Orleans at Elysian Fields Avenue and Dauphine Street to represent and commemorate these men.

New Orleans is a city that has suffered hardship and disaster, and the choice of placing this sculpture in this location holds great significance. As a city that grasps the meaning of loss, this sculpture brings a piece of history from families that, because of the unfortunate event, truly understand what it means to have lost their loved ones. The artist who created these sculptures, Jason Kimes, was enthralled by the idea of creating a piece of art to commemorate the eleven victims in the oil spill and to place the sculptures in New Orleans.  

The figures are carved from hard, unbendable steel, representing  the strength and heroism of the fallen men. Due to the rigor of their job, these men worked day and night carrying out physically grueling work. Essentially, steel is a rigid metal, which displays the strenuous and severe work these men did every day. The statue further commemorates the fallen men by building the figures with this material in order to resemble the steel these victims were surrounded by the day they tragically died.[5]

At first glance, these sculptures exemplify art that has an element of simplicity that is also deeply impacting. Eleven sculptures stand tall and are placed individually, yet create a full circle. This idea seems to me as though the artist had the intention of allowing each men to individually be honored while coming full circle. The artist could have chosen the eleven men to stand tall but arrange them in a straight line, but why did he position them to create a circle? I am convinced that this artistic choice is due to the idea that these men being positioned in a circle conjoins them. These hard working men relied on each other, and if one person did not complete their job, the others would be affected by this.

Additionally, when viewing this artwork, I thought to myself, these sculptures do not contain names or facial details; rather, they are just metal statues. I began to appreciate the anonymity Kimes established by leaving these eleven figures nameless, and in a way, faceless. On one hand, I thought, if the statues are intended to honor these victims, why not include their names? However, I realized these statues not only commemorate this incident but the various other incidents just like this one. By making the creations both nameless and faceless, these people could be anyone. Aside from the men in the accident, many were impacted by this disaster and the role of these men were filled with new men.

Artists have a powerful ability to communicate news that is heavily written about in a way that steers away from simply describing a story to honoring an event in a positive light. Eleven exemplifies how art is a contrasting form of journalism and ensures that society will not forget these man that suffered and the dangers of humans extracting the Earth’s resources. Throughout time, specifically, public artwork and this transformation of journalism have intertwined. Walter Benjamin states, “Plato had a high opinion of literature… all of you are more or less conversant with it in a different form, that of the question of the writer’s autonomy: his freedom to write just what he pleases.”[6]This quote resonated deeply within me as I was pondering the evolution of journalism and the powerful role it still holds in society today. Public artwork allows for everyone to be a part of its creation. Unlike art in a museum where one pays for their entry, public art becomes part of our world in a captivating manner. 

This art form acts as a means of communication by illustrating a piece that pays tribute to an event and displays its significance while allowing for interpretation. Unlike journalism, in which a story is told with a particular approach and without room for interpretation, art can be deciphered in various ways. The ambiguity of art allows it to not only remain relevant but also yields a sense of relatability to its viewers. This alternative piece of art sets out to challenge people and to encourage them to interpret the meaning of the art. Moreover, it offers a sense of challenge and persuades its viewers to remember not only these eleven men, but the many people who die tragically in events like the BP oil spill.

Ironically, this event is far from simplistic. However, Eleven illustrates the power of plainness and its potential to reach its viewers in a way that an overly detailed piece might not. Not only does this art exquisitely encourage its viewers to interpret the artwork on their own, but it allows its viewers to appreciate its powerful simplistic aspect.

Tragic events are constantly occurring in the world; and just as the job of a journalist is to convey these events to the public, Kimes has also taken on this role by making a visual that will continue to tell the unfortunate story of these eleven victims. The sad reality of society is that there will always be another big story that trumps the current one; yet, the sculpture Eleven reminds its viewers to pay tribute to what had happened.

Kimes has created a public art piece that asks people to look, to remember, and to think about the tragedy that afflicted these men and continues to afflict society.  In the society we live in today, upsetting news will constantly be the headline of a news article. However, art has the ability to turn these tragedies into creativity, which serves as a reminder of the actuality of the world. Most importantly, through catastrophe, there will continue to be kind people in the world and kind artists who strive to create these pieces of art as a remembrance for society.



[1]Phillips, Patricia C. “The Exquisite and Urgent Importance of Art.” Art Journal, vol. 66, no. 1, 2007, pp. 5–7., doi:10.1080/00043249.2007.10791234.

[2]Pallardy, Richard. “Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill of 2010.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 13 Apr. 2018,

[3]Mullins, Justin. “The Eight Failures That Caused the Gulf Oil Spill.” New Scientist, New Scientist,

[4]MacCash, Doug, and Doug MacCash. “Deepwater Horizon Memorial Sculpture ‘ELEVEN’ Arrives in New Orleans.”,, 10 Sept. 2016,

[5]MacCash, Doug, and Doug MacCash. “Deepwater Horizon Memorial Sculpture ‘ELEVEN’ Arrives in New Orleans.”,, 10 Sept. 2016,

[6]Benjamin, Walter. Understanding Brecht. Great Britian, Verso. 1998.




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