Edward Snowden made a dramatic appearance in New York City on Friday, thanks to artist Jim Dessicino of Delaware. Dessicino created a nine foot statue of Snowden and placed it in Union Square Park for a three-day showing. He explained the motivation behind his art to Business Insider:
What he did is possibly the most significant act of anyone from my generation. He put truth over the rule of law and committed a huge self-sacrifice.
Although the first twelve passersbys couldn’t identify the statue, they exhibited a wide range of reactions when told it was Snowden. One man backed up Dessicino’s assessment, saying:
He’s our generation’s Daniel Ellsberg. What he did needed to be done.
What About That Nobel Peace Prize?
Friday was a fitting day for the installation of the statue because it was also the day that the Nobel Peace Prize recipients were announced. Many, including 48% of the UK’s Guardian‘s readers, felt that Edward Snowden should have received the award. He was nominated by Norwegian lawmakers Bård Vegar Solhjell and Snorre Valen. They said:
[Snowden’s] actions have in effect led to the reintroduction of trust and transparency as a leading principle in global security policies. Its value can’t be overestimated.
In a second serendipitous development, journalist Glenn Greenwald, who brought the security analyst’s revelations to the world, was the first person to see the statue of Edward Snowden at the park. Dessicino explained how it happened:
The first person to see it was Glenn Greenwald right when we took it out of the van. He was just having breakfast. One of his friends came over and was like ‘…Is that Edward Snowden?’ ‘Yes it is!’ ‘Well, that’s Glenn Greenwald!’
Of course, the statue raised an old controversy — is Snowden a patriot or a traitor? The artist dismissed the oft-asked question as “irrelevant” because what the whistleblower did “was bigger than him.” Nevertheless, the unresolved issue prompted Dessicino to put much thought into the materials he used — gypsum cement, steel, and foam — because of the uncertainty around Snowden’s legacy:
It’s not cast in bronze. The verdict is still open about Snowden so therefore he can’t have a totally permanent monument.
People Can Be Written Out Of History, Can’t They?
It is his hope that the artwork will facilitate the discussion over Snowden. BuzzFeed quoted Dessicino as saying:
When the story broke about Edward Snowden, I was thinking a lot about surveillance and monumentality and how we remember things. How public space is used and how people in history are remembered. And I got the idea that maybe people who are major actants upon history aren’t always represented properly, and those people could be written out of history by not having something more permanent made of them…
And there’s a really democratic activity that happens in public art and public spaces where it can cause public discourse. And I saw that seemed lacking in my generation.
Edward Snowden’s place in Union Square for the next three days is part of an annual Art In Odd Places project. Dessicino will be right alongside his creation, making sure that nothing happens to it. After all, not all judgements of Snowden’s character are benevolent. However, one lady, when told who the statue represented, regarded it with a new eye. She framed the controversy of the day by asking:
You mean the almost Nobel Prize winner?