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Told by those who were involved in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the special exhibition at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York sheds light on the intelligence and military activities that led to the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan nearly 10 years after 9/11 attacks.
Titled “Revealed: The Hunt for Bin Laden,” the exhibition features never-before-seen declassified FBI and CIA documentation. The project comprises a 2,900 square-foot, chronological exhibition with over 60 artifacts. Featured in the Museum’s Special Exhibitions Gallery, the exhibition is divided into six sections: Before 9/11; First Boots on the Ground; Means + Methods; The Courier; The Leads, The Debate, The Raid; and Ongoing Impacts.
Exhibition design places visitors in raw terrain evocative of the forensic investigation and the operation leading to the capture of Osama bin Laden. C&G Partners uses geometric plywood forms modeled after combat-ready, field assembled encampments to double as media and artifact display cases and tells the story through the use of compelling artifacts, images, wall projections, architectural models, maps, and audio-visual footage.
The studio created the exhibition narrative as a crime story, albeit a horrific one at a huge scale. Like a police procedural, it is a story of driven professionals who unite to pursue clues and seek justice. As exhibition designers, the studio uses physical space as a storytelling medium, creating a sense of place, time, and plot to amplify the museum experience. To do this, the design borrows visual techniques from a range of sources. The exhibit is built of tall angled “shards” of raw plywood, no two alike, which can be assembled to evoke a mountain canyon, military field office or residential compound. The shards hold objects, media, and text. Evidence markers from a crime scene investigation inform the color and typography of the show. The idea of declassified information inspires the use of redaction as a graphic motif throughout the exhibition Lastly, the show’s strong media presence comes in surprising shapes and forms as well: media you can look down at, projections near architectural scale-models, and panoramas of forbidding mountain ranges. A top-down projection foregrounds a key exhibition artifact: a scale-model used to plan the raid that brought bin Laden to justice. Revealed: The Hunt for Bin Laden is the second special exhibition designed by C&G Partners for the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. In addition, the studio created permanent wayfinding signs, directional kiosks, and site maps for the Memorial and Memorial Museum when they opened in 2011 and 2014, respectively.
Attendance at the Special Exhibitions Gallery at the 9/11 Museum has doubled for Revealed: The Hunt for Bin Laden, as compared to past shows in this same space. The exhibition fulfills the Museum’s obligation to examine the historical context that led up to the 9/11 attacks and chronicle what followed in their wake, including the extraordinary response from the intelligence, law enforcement, and military communities. The research and original interviews conducted for this exhibition created a vast body of knowledge and assets that could not all be included in the exhibition. Furthermore, since the opening of the exhibition, additional individuals related to the hunt for bin Laden and the raid in Abbottabad have come forward to be interviewed. To share this content with the public, a separate documentary film and book publication are in process to expand and extend the reach of this story beyond the confines and duration of the physical exhibition. The content for the exhibition evolved largely from dialogues with members of intelligence, military, law enforcement, and government groups, with whom we cultivated close partnerships. Building this trust with various stakeholder communities resulted not only in a more compelling and nuanced exhibition, but also in other positive programmatic aspects including more oral histories being conducted for the Museum’s collection, several members offering to participate as speakers in educational and public programs, and certain agencies (i.e. CIA, FBI) participating for the first time or expanding their participation in professional development and leadership training programs we host here at the Museum.
Early visitor feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Here are a couple of examples: “I did not know about all this. Makes one think about the state of our world today and how all our countries should be working together to combat the threat of terrorism.” – Visitor from Australia “I loved the design, with all of the redacted text and imagery. I felt like I was inside the story, part of the hunt.” – Visitor from New Jersey “This exhibition serves as a testimony to the United States’ determination to never forget.” – Law enforcement officer “Meticulously researched, and with even-handed reporting of sensitive topics, the exhibition captures the tireless efforts and tenacity of those professionals whose mission it was to hunt down the leader of al-Qaeda. While we may never know their names, we now know their stories.” – FBI special agent