With a city hearing to be scheduled, the future of a wheat paste mural depicting the Palestinian struggle that appeared on the walls outside an Eastside Santa Fe home remains in flux, but will reportedly get at least a little due process.
According to the Albuquerque Journal, homeowner Guthrie Miller appealed a decision handed down from the city's Land Use Department in a letter dated Jan. 28 informing him that the material and colors of the mural, which appeared overnight on his property on Jan. 5, did not conform to historic district standards. In an email to SFR, city spokeswoman Lilia Chacon was adamant that the mural's politically charged content did not play a part in the decision. Bits and pieces of the mural have already been torn down by unknown parties.
The mural itself was created and executed by Arizona-based Navajo artist and activist Remy, who is launching direct actions in Iowa during the lead-up to the presidential caucus. SFR spoke with Remy by phone to get a clearer idea about his intent and how he feels about the future of the mural, entitled "Palestinian Solidarity Wall."
Can you tell us about the impetus behind the mural?
I think it was just to bring attention to the Palestinian struggle in terms of colonization and genocide. Indigenous struggle has never been relegated to predetermined borders, and being that this is stolen land, I wanted to expand it beyond borders and create a mural that depicts accurately what's going on.
It was pretty obvious that Santa Fe has a racist culture in the sense of this mural consistently being defaced, the struggle being erased, so while people are living on stolen land, they take Indigenous struggle and erase it. I'm only here, but it's in other countries, too, and that was a slap in the face. I wanted to bring to light some of these images and, aside from one of them, I just took them from the media—they're images that are available online, and if you just do a little bit of research, you'll be able to find them yourself. I know a lot of folks on the other side of this wanted to say the images are manufactured or only tell one side of the story, but the story is what it is, and I invite them to do a little research themselves and educate themselves. I know this term has been used in other movements, but I wanted to bring the war home.
Can you talk about the parallels you're drawing between the treatment of Palestinians in the Middle East and Indigenous people here in the States?
When ships landed on our shores, what we were seeing was the separation of families. When Columbus came over, the first thing he did was, he separated the men and boys, and they were sent to mine gold and housed in prisons. The women and the girls were used as sex slaves and trafficked between his crew.
When you look at today, we have extractive industries that are on tribal land—it's all tribal land really—creating man camps to extract whatever there is. Look at the Dakota Access Pipeline—and other areas, like Line 3 and KXL—and man camps being built inside these communities. What happened is, there's a huge spike in the population in terms of drugs, sex trafficking and missing women and Two-spirit folks as well. They become the targets of what's being perpetuated for over 520 years. In terms of cages? How people are outraged? This has been happening for 520-plus years.
I wanted to draw those parallels and really take it back to the past. A lot of people don't understand the Palestinians are resisting with rocks. [Indigenous people] only had rocks as well, and we may have sharpened them, but we were up against armor and steel. Folks are being targeted, killed and disappeared within the system. In terms of the kids like Faris Odeh, once he's caught resisting, they can go to his house in the middle of the night, kick down the door and remove him…put him in a system of cages to be terrorized, tortured and so forth.
The virtual wall technology is being shipped to what is known as the border [of the US] and being utilized against the Indigenous people there. And there are a lot of different intersections you can draw from this. Large corporations … are propping up Israeli tech to do this, and when we also look at the shrinking landmass maps of Palestine, you can see over the decades how that has shrunk where some of these, what I call open-air prisons, are. Look at Gaza, Jenin, these other places where Palestinian people are housed, and you can find a lot of the same things that [Indigenous people] were exposed to. The parallels abound. If you take a little time and look further than a television screen of Fox News, you'd be able to make an educated decision about where you lie within a human rights crisis.
Homeowner Guthrie Miller had reportedly agreed to have similar artwork applied to his property in 2015 by the organization Santa Feans for Justice in Palestine, but says he wasn't approached beforehand this time. Obviously he says he's OK with the content and is appealing the decision to have it removed, but why put up the mural in secret?
Every year there's this whole Santa Fe Indian Market, and I never see any type of political art, really, that makes me want to go into a gallery. In terms of the medium itself, street art has never, ever asked for permission, and it never will, either. Knowing about this whole struggle, I decided to take it out of that predetermined box and expand it. Some folks I know, racist folks, have taken to trying to take apart the mural itself, and in terms of Indigenous struggle, what people don't understand is, it isn't just relegated to one wall. It's not about borders or one wall—it's global.
The folks who weren't understanding of that or who wanted to take knives to the images, I think that's an extension of their families' legacies in terms of westward expansion. I think the legacy, the history of westward expansion still lies in the DNA of people who are here and that's in the destruction of our murals. We're not on the same page, and that's why I decided to go outside all of that.
The city of Santa Fe seems to be ok with Indigenous people being part of Indian Market, but in terms of our struggle, we're the things that remind them of their own families' struggles, and they want to keep that out of it—we're OK to exist, but only if it's under glass.
The location of [the mural] is on the way up to Museum Hill, and I think that the art—the institutions—speak to our struggle. I'm certainly confident I'll never be a part of these institutions, galleries, whatever. I'm sure they wouldn't welcome any of that inside there, but what's funny is having to describe this process in terms of wheat paste, in terms of street art…it's a joke. I think the only way they'd appreciate something like this would be if it were by some famous artist. I'm in spaces like Standing Rock for over a year, but in places like Santa Fe, they create in the safety of their own homes. I travel with a bulletproof vest, because I don't know when the door could be kicked in because of something I'm doing or something I've done.
Is there any outcome that you feel would be satisfactory?
I think I'm working on a couple different things with some of the local organizations, so if people don't like seeing these images of Indigenous struggle, very soon, there's going to be no place you can go without seeing it. I'm going to be turning up with some local folks, and it's going to extend far beyond one single wall. I do workshops around the country so people can tell their own story. It's not just going to be about me, it's going to be about them.
They like our culture. They love everything about us except us. That's just one wall, and Santa Fe's filled with walls. What was interesting was, when I was putting up these images, people were stopping and saying 'It's so beautiful, thank you, can I help?'
I've learned to live on very minimal, scraps, if you will, but I know my impact is viral, and that's evident. Spectacle is my craft; art is my weapon.