Snowden statue kicks off New York art festival
(AFP) A cement head statue of America's most-wanted whistleblower Edward Snowden, once famously confiscated by police, returned to public display in New York on Friday to kick off a street art festival.
The 45-kilo likeness stands proud on a plinth in Manhattan's tourist-clogged Little Italy neighborhood, to be guarded round the clock until the weekend Lo Man Art Festival closes.
"If any shenanigans begin they (volunteers) find our security guards and we make sure we keep everyone safe," says comedy manager Wayne Rada, who founded the festival and Little Italy Street Art Project.
Coming four months after it hit the headlines for being erected on a war memorial without permission, organizers hope it'll help put the small art festival on the map.
The statue, or bust, takes up pride of place on empty ground nicknamed "temper tot lot" for two towering depictions of angry toddlers by artist Ron English.
"If there's a little bit of talk or eyebrow raising that's not a bad thing," says Rada.
"All they (the artists) want to do is show off the Snowden bust and create a discussion -- whether you agree or disagree, that really doesn't matter."
Artists Jeff Greenspan and Andrew Tider say they erected the bust on an American Revolution war memorial in Brooklyn last April "to highlight those who sacrifice their safety in the fight against modern-day tyranies.
"It would be a dishonor to those memorialized here to not laud those who protect the ideals they fought for, as Edward Snowden has," they said.
The 32-year-old former contractor at the US National Security Agency, has lived in exile in Russia since 2013 after revealing the extent of mass spying programs by the United States and its allies.
The US administration has branded him a hacker and a traitor who endangered lives, but he has been twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and won a string of international free speech awards.
Rada says he set up the festival to relive the glory days of street art, which in the 70s and 80s cemented New York's status as world capital of sub-culture and coolest place on the planet.
Two dozen acclaimed mural artists from around the world have been invited to create original work across Lower Manhattan.
Organizers hope that up to 60,000 people will visit the 21 odd pieces of art on display around the area, film events and children's activities.
Rising rents have forced out many artists and musicians, and it has become trendy to dismiss Manhattan as a mecca to corporate money-making, where the subculture scene is on the skids.
"I think we can keep it relevant but we have to fight for it," Rada said. It took "a lot of fist-shaking" to convince people that street murals would be a good idea, he added.
"I tried to explain to them that New York City is the nexus of the universe for art and culture, so we should do something that reflects that."
English painted his pink temper tot specially for the festival. It depicts his daughter Zephyr and is pair to son Mars, in green, which was painted the day before Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012.
The paintings are three stories high, as if the toddlers were swept into the air out of their control -- but with bulging muscles to reflect the terror that young tots can inspire.
"This is the big summer of the return of street art," says English.
He now lives in Beacon, an art community in the Hudson Valley, and says he was one of the first pushed out of Manhattan by rent hikes.
"The thing that makes all the wealthy people want to be here is the art and the culture, and if you squeeze that out, then they're going to leave too," he said.
Do not miss the news - sign up to receive the wort.lu newsletter in English delivered to your inbox six days a week.