Leonard Peltier Statue Removed by American University to be Shown in Los Angeles

Nine-foot-tall statue of Leonard Peltier removed by American University to be part of Los Angeles exhibition.

Published September 28, 2017

LOS ANGELES — The Main Museum presents Rigo 23: Ripples Become Waves, an exhibition of works by L.A.-based Portuguese artist Rigo 23. Known for painting large-scale outdoor murals, Rigo is considered part of the first generation of the San Francisco Mission School art movement, which emerged in the city’s Mission District in the early 1990s. For nearly three decades, Rigo’s socially engaged work has focused on addressing injustices, notably highlighting Leonard Peltier, a member of the American Indian Movement who was convicted of killing two FBI agents during a shootout on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1975 and whose two life sentences have been the subject of much debate. Rigo 23: Ripples Become Waves will be the first presentation of the artist’s statue of Peltier after its contested removal from the American University campus in early 2017.

The exhibition will be on view January 14– April 8, 2018, at Beta Main, the test site for The Main Museum.

Rigo 23: Ripples Become Waves will feature works that emphasize the artist’s long-time advocacy for social and political change, specifically calling attention to the incarceration of political prisoners and the plight of indigenous communities in the United States. The exhibition takes its name from a quote by Robert H. King, former political prisoner and co-founder of the Black Panther Party chapter at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, who said, “The deeper they bury you, the louder your voice becomes. You throw pebbles into the pond, you get ripples; ripples become waves; the waves can become a tsunami.”

At the center of the presentation, both literally and figuratively, is a nine-foot-tall statue of Peltier. Rigo created the work as part of a 2016 Amnesty International bid for then–President Barack Obama to grant Peltier clemency, which was ultimately denied. Rigo 23: Ripples Become Waves addresses important present-day issues and political controversy – from Peltier’s initial sentence given more than 40 years ago to the efforts to exonerate him today.

The statue is based on a self-portrait Peltier painted while in prison; the base of the statue measures six feet by nine feet and is modeled after the dimensions of a standard prison cell. Installed in December 2016 on the campus of American University in Washington, D.C., by the school’s museum, the statue was deinstalled by the university shortly after law enforcement supporters protested for the statue’s removal. Reacting to the removal of the statue, Rigo stated, “The actions taken by American University at the behest of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Agents Association are part and parcel of a concerted and ongoing effort at making the Native invisible.” After a protracted battle, American University has agreed to return the statue to Rigo; though at the time of this announcement, the statue is still in the possession of the school.

“Instead of further brutalizing and deconstructing the statue of Leonard Peltier, I am beyond elated that it will be brought to The Main where it will now be nurtured and cared for,” said Rigo. Once the work is installed in the Beta Main space, Rigo plans to work on and conserve the statue while it is on view to the public and throughout the run of the exhibition. “The subjects that Rigo is contending with in his work are of utmost importance and urgency, especially in the context of these highly charged times, and we are proud to bring his work back to Los Angeles,” said Allison Agsten, director of The Main. “Issues of censorship in public discourse and the role of art in addressing complex historical narratives cannot be discounted—not now and, most importantly, not with the heightened tensions of our current political climate.”

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