Artist Alarms With Misguided ‘Beware of the Jews’ Crossing Sign

The project was meant to explore different types of identity.

Franck Allais's traffic sign art project was interpreted as an antisemitic "Beware of Jews" message. Courtesy of the Shomrim.

On March 14, a shiver of alarm went through London’s Jewish community when a cautionary road sign was spotted, sporting the silhouette of an Orthodox Jewish man instead of a symbol warning of uneven road or potential ice. It cropped up in Stamford Hill, known for its Hasidic community. To many, the hateful message seemed clear: “Beware of Jews.”

As it turned out, however, the sign was actually just a poorly conceived graphic design project, according to the Telegraph. “It was a project about crossing the road,” the artist, Franck Allais, told the Guardian. “How everyone is different, everyone has an identity… I put [26] more signs up in the street, but only this one got noticed. I am sorry for any offence caused.”

In other words, what was taken as a message of hate was actually meant as a message of inclusivity.

Rabbi Herschel Gluck told the Press Association, “I’m very pleased that he has apologized but rather surprised at his lack of sensitivity and knowledge that a sign like this could prove to be offensive.” The Jewish community as well as British politicians had been outspoken against the perceived negative message of the work.

The project follows a recent rash of antisemitic threats against Jewish community centers.

Allais isn’t the first artist to inadvertently create an uproar with an unannounced public artwork. For instance, in another charged political moment, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and subsequent anthrax scare, a 25-year-old conceptual artist Clinton Boisvert was arrested in New York in 2002.

His crime? Piling up 38 black boxes marked with the word “FEAR” outside the Union Square station. Panic ensued, and the bomb squad was called to the scene. (There’s a reason we now have “if you see something, say something.”)

One of Plastic Jesus's Donald Trump internment camp signs. Courtesy of Plastic Jesus.

One of Plastic Jesus’s Donald Trump internment camp signs. Courtesy of Plastic Jesus.

Most recently, Los Angeles street artist Plastic Jesus took aim at Trump’s anti-immigrant policies by affixing signs to vacant lots in at least six cities across the county that designated each site as a “Future Internment Camp,” marked by the official White House seal. The satirical intent, however, was somewhat clearer.

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