Sometime before dawn on Monday morning, a anonymous cadre of artists and helping hands snuck into Fort Greene Park and installed a bust of Edward Snowden, NSA whistleblower, atop the park’s famous Prison Ship Martyrs Monument. The artists told Animal New York that they conceived of the plan a year ago, and hooked up with a sculptor sympathetic to their cause. “There’s a media landscape that has painted him as a criminal,” one of them said. “You need something theatrical and large to counterbalance the Fox News-iness of the texture of the conversation out there.”
It didn’t take long for the Parks Department and NYPD to intervene. First, they draped a tarp over it, because what’s seen cannot be unseen. By Monday afternoon, the Snowden bust had been removed.
What was the Edward Snowden bust? It was four-feet tall, weighed 100 pounds, made of hydrocal, a plasterlike substance, and affixed to the column with an adhesive chosen for its non-damaging properties. It was dubbed “Prison Ship Martyrs Monument 2.0” by the artists who commissioned and installed it. They released the following artist’s statement:
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. 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.
Sometime before dawn on Tuesday morning, a second group of artists, this one calling themselves the Illuminator Art Collective, visited Fort Greene Park. Their mission: to replace the removed bust with a holographic projection. “We recreated it digitally,” one member told the New York Times. “We used some projection mapping software so we could put the image exactly where we wanted.”
The Illuminators got their start during Occupy Wall Street, and have become known in recent years for projecting social-justice messages and images around the world: e.g. messages of support and a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King in Boston, following the marathon bombing, and a projection onto the Metropolitan Museum of Art protesting the dedication of a plaza to David Koch.
To project the Snowden image, the Illuminators threw a cloud of ash into the air and shone the Snowden hologram onto it. After about 20 minutes, the ash had fully dissipated. In a statement on their website, the Illuminators 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.”
Follow Phillip Pantuso on Twitter @phillippantuso.