by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger
“I was a peripheral visionary. I could see the future, but only way off to the side.” – Steven Wright
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
“Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim.” – George Satnayana in “Life of Reason, Reason in Common Sense”
This last week an artist became the message of his own art. While this may be poetic, it is also an injustice and a abridgement of his 1st Amendment rights. Fake Soviet style propaganda posters appeared around New York City corresponding to the opening of the U.N. General Assembly. They are the work of 29-year-old street artist Essam Attia, who although he works anonymously like the street artist Bansky, did sign some of the works “Essam”. The NYPD’s initial response seemed to be proportionate to the act when Police Department spokesman Paul Browne shrugged the stunt off with a bad pun. “[It] appears to be NYPD critics subjecting us to a droll attack”, he said. The actual disproportionate response has ended up with Essam Attia being arrested and charged with 56 counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument, grand larceny possession of stolen property and weapons possession – the last charge stemming from an unloaded and unregistered .22 caliber pistol under the artist’s bed.
In their disproportionate response, the NYPD effectively created a Streisand Effect not only drawing attention to the event itself, but to the underlying message of the artist. In an anonymous interview with Animalnewyork.com in September, Attia said “The meaning of the drone campaign? Well, to me it’s really about about starting a conversation. We’ve obviously seen a little bit of press in the last year or two about street signs I was involved with about the possiblity of the NYPD authorizing drones to fly in the sky domestically and I don’t think the conversation has reached a mainstream level where we are like talking about this at the dinner table and whether we want this to take place. We have to remember that these are devices that right now internationally are being used to kill people. They’re armed. They shoot missiles. [. . .] We need talk about whether that’s technology we want to bring to this country.” In other words, the expansive security state developing in this country and the expansion of military technology into the civilian sector.
He also said, “That first night I couldn’t sleep at all. My heart was pumping and I kept waking up in a cold sweat. Bloomberg, Kelly and his cronies are not going to take this lightly if I get caught.” The resulting arrest shows that Attia, unlike Steven Wright, was not a peripheral visionary but spot on in his prediction.
Although the grand larceny possession charges have merit as Attia posted the signs in spots sold for commercial advertisement, the rest of it reeks of him being punished for the content of his speech. When you look at the posters, I think it is clear they are a parody/satire using the propaganda style of art to highlight an issue those in power clearly don’t want discussed.
“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”
“If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.” – George Orwell
What do you think?
Kudos: Otteray Scribe for steering this story my way.
Disclaimer: All photos copyright of their respective owners, used without permission.