The night after John Oliver’s interview with former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden aired on Last Week Tonight, a mysterious bronze bust of the leaker appeared in a Brooklyn park atop a pedestal, accompanied by a simple plaque that read, “Snowden.” Of course, as soon as the sculpture attracted media attention, New York City park officials covered the monument with a tarp before removing it from the park entirely.
Updated on 04-14-2015 by Malarie Gokey: Added text from a letter the artists lawyer addressed to the NYPD, demanding the return of the sculpture.
“All too often, figures who strive to uphold these ideals have been cast as criminals rather than in bronze.”
Now, the artists who are responsible for the statue have contracted a lawyer to get the expensive bust returned to them. The artists’ lawyer Ronald L. Kuby wrote a letter to the New York Police Department, requesting that the Snowden bronze be returned to the artists immediately.
The lawyer states that the artists loaned the bust to the park “in accordance with the spirit of the artistic mission statement” of the NYC Parks Department’s “Art in the Park” policies. Kuby added that even though the artists did not follow all the rules when they installed the Snowden bust in the park, the NYPD is still legally obligated to return the bust to its rightful owners.
“In light of the fact that the NYC Parks Department and the NYPD chose to summarily cover and then remove this artistic loan, the artist would like the sculpture returned to them, forthwith,” he writes, in the letter obtained by Capital New York.
The NYPD has yet to respond to the lawyer’s letter, and is still investigating who is behind the statue, although it’s unclear what the consequences would be for the artists or the people who placed the bronze bust in the park. The cops are searching for fingerprints or other evidence that could help them identify the artists and their accomplices.
However, at this point, it seems that only the artists themselves and a handful of journalists from Animal New York, who spoke to the artists under the condition of anonymity, know who made the bust and erected it in Brooklyn’s Fort Green Park. The Snowden sculpture was intended to honor the whistleblower who revealed the wide scope of the NSA’s mass surveillance programs, and was consequently deemed a traitor and driven into exile.
— Raphael Guarilha (@guarilha) April 6, 2015
The two New York artists who came up with the idea of the tribute enlisted a West coast-based bronze artist to help them make the bust. The artists and some friends then erected the 4-foot, 100lb bust on top of the the statue at the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument.
“Fort Greene’s Prison Ship Martyrs Monument is a memorial to American POWs who lost their lives during the Revolutionary War. We have updated this monument to highlight those who sacrifice their safety in the fight against modern-day tyrannies,” the artists wrote in a statement. “It would be a dishonor to those memorialized here to not laud those who protect the ideals they fought for, as Edward Snowden has by bringing the NSA’s 4th-Amendment-violating surveillance programs to light. All too often, figures who strive to uphold these ideals have been cast as criminals rather than in bronze.”
“Our goal is to bring a renewed vitality to the space and prompt even more visitors to ponder the sacrifices made for their freedoms. We hope this inspires them to reflect upon the responsibility we all bear to ensure our liberties exist long into the future,” they concluded.
— unR̶A̶D̶A̶C̶K̶ted (@JesselynRadack) April 7, 2015
The artists fully expected the bust to be removed, and said they are prepared to 3D print a number of the busts and spread them around the city in protest.
In fact, the sculpture’s removal from the park and the subsequent NYPD investigation have garnered plenty of criticism from activists, artists, and indignant Twitter users. A separate group of artists set up an illuminator to project an image of Snowden in place of the bust.
“Inspired by the actions of these anonymous artists, The Illuminator Art Collective recreated the intervention ephemerally by projecting an image of the sculpture into a cloud of smoke,” they wrote. “Our feeling is that while the State may remove any material artifacts that speak in defiance against incumbent authoritarianism, the acts of resistance remain in the public consciousness. And it is in sharing that act of defiance that hope resides.”