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Monument honoring journalist Nellie Bly opens: "This installation is spiritual"

New art exhibit honors Nellie Bly
Monument honoring America's first investigative journalist opens 06:04

A new monument honoring journalist Nellie Bly opened to the public in New York on Friday. Bly is regarded by many as America's first investigative journalist.  

"The Girl Puzzle" monument is located on Roosevelt Island, not far from the scene of one of her greatest triumphs.  

"It is a puzzle. It's the girl puzzle. I want people to experience it as a puzzle, to walk through, see the reflections of the faces, see the puzzle pieces of the faces," sculptor Amanda Matthews told CBS News' Christina Ruffini. 

The monument was created by Matthews as a tribute to Bly, who became one of the island's most famous and fearless residents.

"She didn't just try to read about and understand people who exist in the margins. She put herself in those same situations... Physically at risk, emotionally at risk," Matthews said.

In 1887, Bly went undercover as an inmate at the island's asylum. Her report "Ten Days in a Mad-House" revealed the deplorable treatment of women in the facility and prompted outrage and reform. 

The monument consists of 7-foot faces and progressively larger spheres that reflect the impact of her reporting. Along with Bly's face, four other women, that Matthews all knows personally, are also displayed. The four women represent women from diverse or marginalized communities.

"The more I read of her work, the more I could not separate it from women I know. And I thought, how timely this work was and still is," Matthews said.

Ninety-eight-year-old Mioko Chambliss, who at age 18 was sent to a Japanese internment camp, is among the faces. 

Matthews' two daughters and the face of Cutia Bacon Brown are also displayed. Brown overcame tragedy after the death of her infant daughter.

"This installation is spiritual. It's not just faces. It's not just concrete and bronze. It's a spirit of love, a spirit of peace. There's hope here. And I just want everyone to respect it," Brown said. 

The back of the sculptures are engraved with the quote from Bly's writings that inspired the selection of each subject.

None of the women ever met Bly but they said they can all see themselves in her words. 

"I think that conversations about lived experiences, about intersectionality, about where we belong and in what categories other people see us and in what categories we see ourselves, needs to be part of that nuanced discussion about where do women fit in? And where are these new spaces where we can now inhabit?" Matthews said.  

The faces took 18 months to make at Matthews' studio in Kentucky. The installation is one of only a handful of public monuments in the country that depict women. 

Matthews also made a sculpture of educator Nettie Depp. It will be installed next year at the Kentucky State Capitol. She said she made the statue after she discovered the state lacked sculptures honoring women. 

"Women's history didn't show up in our history books the same as men. It's not written down as much. It's not portrayed as much. So, we have to reach back into history, find this information, bring it into the 21st century," said Matthews. 

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