The Board of CIMAM has sent a letter to the president of the American University in Washington, urging the University not to censor a commissioned art work by the artist Rigo 23 representing the Native American activist Leonard Peltier. It did so in response to a statement published by the University, and following correspondence with the artist concerning the sculpture´s removal from the grounds of the University and the Katzan Art Center on 1 January 2017.
The CIMAM board asks Neil Kerwin, as president of American University, to reinstate the sculpture and for it to remain in place until 30th of April as originally agreed with the artist.
The sculpture, nine feet tall and made of redwood and steel, is based on a self-portrait by Leonard Peltier, the imprisoned Native American activist who was convicted for the 1975 shootings of two FBI agents at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, during the unrests that were part of the American Indian Movement activism in that period.
Peltier´s trial has been labeled unfair by Amnesty International. There has been a long lasting demand to reverse his conviction, supported by politicians and personalities ranging from Mikhail Gorbachev and Nelson Mandela, to Robert Redford and Carlos Santana, and involvement of the European Parliament. At the end of the Clinton presidency, there was a campaign to grant Peltier presidential clemency, a campaign that continues in the present day.
CIMAM has reviewed the arguments of American University, which include concerns that the University might be perceived as assuming an advocacy position of clemency for Mr. Peltier, and possible threats to security. These concerns should have been discussed with the artist and means to address them sought, such as the issuing of a disclaimer regarding the content, which is common practice. Threats to the work and to public safety should be dealt with by the police. The artist has stated publicly he was not consulted on these issues.
The Board of CIMAM hopes that American University will reverse its decision to remove the work and will honor its declared commitment to ‘support thought-provoking art that informs and educates’.