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20 Years On: Artist Iryna Muha on Losing Her Father in 9/11 and New Project My America

11 September 21 words: Lizzy O’Riordan

On the twentieth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, we talk to Nottingham musician and artist Iryna Muha - who lost her father on that day - about her new project My America, being a 9/11 family, and American nationalism. 

On 11 September 2001, Iryna Muha lost her father in the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers. At the time she was 24 years old and had only been living in America for a short time, having emigrated from Ukraine a year prior. As the world prepares to look back on twenty years since the attacks, Iryna talks to me about her new art project, My America, which acts as a kind of personal memorial of the day. 

“The project is to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the terrorist attack,” Iryna says. “I was trying to figure out exactly what it was I was trying to say, I knew there was something inside me that needed to come out.”  

It’s not even a story about my father, it’s not a story about the politics, it’s the story of a personal loss that happened in the public eye

The art piece - which combines music, photography, and a one woman show – muses on the unique experience of grieving publicly. Iryna didn’t know what the project was going to turn into, but in the end, she tells me, “It’s not even a story about my father, it’s not a story about the politics, it’s the story of a personal loss that happened in the public eye.” 

I ask Iryna if the process of creating art has been cathartic and she tells me a story about going to see Vlad Triotsky, creator of the Ukranian art festival Gogolfest. He suggested that she put her emotions aside while working on the project and she says this made it bearable. “Before I started the project, I felt really anxious for a couple of days,” she explains. “I ended up enjoying the process. It felt like a kind of therapy.” Iryna tells me that she always dreads the anniversaries of 9/11, “so in the weeks coming up to the anniversary, it was really helpful to me to work on this.”

In the wake of the attacks, the U.S. saw a spike in nationalistic and anti-immigrant sentiments. Being both an immigrant to the U.S. and the daughter of someone who died in 9/11 - Iryna was in a strange position. “My father wasn’t American. I had only been in America for a year, I didn’t even speak English very well,” she says. “But when my father was killed, they gave us an American flag, the type they give to soldiers.” Iryna says the flag was meant to be a sign of respect to the victims, and an attempt to give them an honourable legacy, but to Iryna it had no sentimental value. 

“When the pandemic happened last year, I reconnected with my American family who are involved in Peaceful Tomorrows.” (An anti-war group ran by September 11th families.) Iryna remembers the start of the Afghanistan War and how it was done in the name of the 9/11 families. “Nobody ever asked me about it,” she explains, “it’s just a circle of violence that brings you back to square one. It just makes it all worse.”

It’s just a circle of violence that brings you back to square one. It just makes it all worse

Iryna moved to the U.K a few years after the attacks. Although she only lived in America a short time, she was ready to leave. “When I first came to the UK I felt like an immigrant from the U.S., the start of the war had been very distressing for me.” Now Iryna lives in Nottingham where she makes music. She jokes that British people love to complain “about the weather, about the government” but says that she loves living here and is grateful for her move. 

My America is an online art piece by Iryna Muha with photography by Elena Pavlova Muha. It will be streaming online on September 11th. More details can be found on the event page. Watching with headphones is recommended.

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