The face of whistleblowing in the United States made a brief "appearance" in New York City on Monday morning. While the rest of the city was busy commuting to work, three guerrilla artists built a statue of Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower, in Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn. The artists put the bust of Snowden's head on top of a column that is part of the park’s Prison Ship Martyrs Monument.
In the artists' eyes, the surprise addition to the monument was a commentary on the modern-day struggles against “tyrannies.” According to local NYC blog Animal, the artists came up with the idea about a year ago, and while they don’t think that Snowden would be a big fan of the statue — because he didn’t want the infamous leaks to be about him — they think he would probably be on board with their larger message. According to Animal, the artists explained their reason for the project as such:
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 resulting artistic project was a 4-foot tall bust that was made out of the sculpting material hydrocal and was designed to fit in with the other pieces in the park’s monument collection. The piece took six months to complete, weighed approximately 100 pounds and, according to one artist's estimate, it probably cost about “30 grand.” The artists did not damage the existing column with the pop-up Snowden piece; TIME reports that the artists used an adhesive that would keep the bust in place without causing any damage.
It’s a good thing the artists opted to use a temporary adhesive — Snowden didn’t stick around for long. New York City removed the statue on the same day it was erected. New York Police Department spokesman Sgt. Lee Jones told TIME the statue incident is “an ongoing investigation by the intelligence division.”
Snowden became a household name in 2013, when his leaks of information regarding the U.S. surveillance program revealed the extent of the country’s spying, and raised larger questions about privacy. While some saw Snowden’s actions as traitorous, others — including, apparently, the artists — viewed him as a hero for putting himself on the line to reveal the information. The artists' statement continued:
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.