In 2016, New York City first opened the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, a replacement for the PATH train station in Lower Manhattan that was destroyed in the 9/11 attacks. The Hub’s centerpiece, a structure called the Oculus, was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava to resemble a dove in flight. As one of the city’s landmark buildings, the Oculus attracted the attention of architect Mohamed Yakub, who took numerous photos of the building in 2018, and then again earlier this year when the station was all but empty of travelers. From these photos, Yokub has created a series of images by artfully positioning multiple mirror versions of the same shot to form his own vision, based on the magnificent ribbed structure.
The series, which Yakub, a frequent Vineyard visitor, has titled “Magnetic Flux,” is currently on view at the newly opened Knowhere Center on Circuit Ave. in Oak Bluffs. The new gallery space, a satellite of the Knowhere Gallery on Dukes County Ave., opened its doors to the public on Sept. 5 with the launching of the solo exhibit of Yakub’s work. On September 11, the new art and culture space hosted an evening with the artist. Val Francis, co-owner of both galleries, says, “These brilliant images of the Oculus station came out of such a tragic loss. We remembered all that we lost that day, 19 years ago.”
Yakub, who lives in Riverdale in the Bronx, has forged a very successful career as an architect, working on high-rise buildings in both the U.S. and abroad. The Kenyan-born artist and architect currently serves as founder and director of design at Kitchen Habitat. Although he has been shooting images for years, the Vineyard exhibit marks his first time showing his work publicly.
“I’ve found that the camera is a wonderful tool for creativity,” says Yakub. “I began experimenting with long exposures of moving objects. Out of those images I would clip a portion and mirror it. Our eyes are incredibly efficient. Our brains tend to fill in the missing parts — to try to make sense of things. You can see all kinds of figures in the images.”
The resulting mirror images reminded Yakub of the space station in the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey,” one of his favorite films. “I tried to weave a story with the images,” he says. “Thinking of it as a space station gives you a lot of freedom. There’s no real up and down.”
Others have discovered their own interpretations of the images. Cheryl Finley, author of the book “Committed to Memory: The Art of the Slave Ship Icon” found a similarity to a famous 18th century engraving of slaves packed into the hold of a ship that has come into use as a symbol of Black resistance, identity, and remembrance.
As Yakub writes in his artist’s statement, “The camera has allowed me to translate the ribs and orbs of Calatrava’s building into images that are mysterious, otherworldly, galactic. Are we viewing the world from inner or outer space? Are we witnessing slave ships, ancient kingdoms, or the future?”
Yakub has long admired the work of Calatrava, who is known for his sweeping sculptural designs that often resemble living organisms or organic forms. “All I’ve done with my images is simply amplify that vision,” he says.
“What I’ve always loved about the Oculus is that here in New York, everything is driven by zoning. You try to get as much square footage out of a site as possible, which results in a lot of boring, rectangular buildings. I love the fact that so much space was allotted for a sculptural building like that in a place as dense as Manhattan. I’ve always admired the audaciousness of Calatrava’s design, a building of such wild abandon; yet still a holy site right in the middle of New York. I love the repetitiveness and pureness of the exposed structure. It served well as a beautiful canvas for my own work. I can only thank Calatrava.”