Guerrilla Artists Demand Return of Edward Snowden Bust from NYPD

Snowden is in exile in Russia; the bust languishes in a police station.

Jeff Greenspan, and Andrew Tider, Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument 2.0 (2015), featuring an Edward Snowden bust. Courtesy of Aymann Ismail/Animal New York.

A trio of anonymous artists are demanding that the NYPD return a sculpture depicting Edward Snowden, seized after the artists secretly installed it in a public park last week. The artists call the work, depicting the NSA whistle-blower, “a gift to the city.” It was briefly on view in a war memorial in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park (see Guerrilla Artists Celebrate Whistle-Blowers with Edward Snowden Statue).

The artists are represented by civil rights lawyer and radio talk show host Ronald Kuby, who held a press conference yesterday at the memorial. Among others, Kuby has represented a protestor who burned a flag at the 1984 Republican National Convention, accused terrorist Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, Gulf War conscientious objectors, and naked body painting.

“The police, simply stated, have no right to keep the statue,” stated Kuby. “Whatever the right of the parks department to remove an unauthorized sculpture, that does not translate into the right of the police to indefinitely detain a work of art.”

Kuby has sent NYPD commissioner William Bratton a letter calling for the artwork’s return on behalf of the artists. The letter notes the significant time and resources spent creating the work and expresses the hope that statue will be released “so it may continue to spark healthy conversation about issues essential to our freedoms.”

Police returning the Edward Snowden bust. Photo: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates.

Police returning the Edward Snowden bust.
Photo: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates.

“By releasing our sculpture,” the artists say, “the NYPD has an amazing opportunity to show it not only protects its people, but also honors the city’s long history as a benchmark for creative expression and free thinking.”

“It is somewhat ironic that as Edward Snowden is in exile in Russia his statue is being held hostage in the basement of a police precinct in New York City,” Kuby added.

The statue was installed before dawn on April 6 in the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument, which memorializes American soldiers who died on British prison ships during the Revolutionary War. The artists hoped the location might illustrate how Snowden’s  leak of documents revealing government surveillance is part of a long tradition of resisting tyranny.

The Illuminator's Edward Snowden projection in Brookyn's Fort Greene Park. Photo: the Illuminator.

The Illuminator’s Edward Snowden projection in Brookyn’s Fort Greene Park.
Photo: the Illuminator.

Police removed the sculpture within hours. The Illuminator Art Collective briefly recreated the artwork later that evening with a glowing projection.

Also at the press conference was Geoffrey Croft, a member of NYC Park Advocates, a watchdog group that aims to improve the parks system. He maintains that the Parks Department should officially display the work through the Art in the Parks program. “New York City has a long, storied history of art and dissension,” he noted.

The artists are hoping the Parks Department will eventually come around (and there is historic precedent for such a reversal: the iconic Wall Street bull began life as a guerrilla art project quickly impounded by the city—see Wall Street’s Bronze Bull Celebrates 25th Anniversary), but their short-term goal is to get the statue back in time for a surveillance-themed art show organized by Tribeca’s Postmasters Gallery and opening at Pierogi Gallery‘s Boiler exhibition space in North Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

If the police cooperate, the artists will display the work with a plaque reading “On Loan from the NYPD Property Clerk.”

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