San Jose comes under fire for police protest art piece at airport
The Mineta San Jose International Airport. File photo.

    An art piece at the San Jose International Airport is raising concerns from police advocates who say it depicts violence against officers.

    San Jose city officials confirmed the artwork has been taken down.

    “Last night, a temporary art exhibition at the airport ‘Holding the Moment’ was rotated out three days early,” said Carolina Camarena, a city spokeswoman. “The city has heard concerns from airport employees, the Police Officers Association and members of the public that one of the artworks exhibited in a public facility could be seen to encourage violence against police.”

    The piece, created by artist Eric Bui, shows a person sitting atop what appears to be a police cruiser. The person is holding an upside down flag, which is a signal of dire distress, and there are two red splatters on the windows of what appears to be blood.

    The artwork elicited strong reaction on social media with some denouncing the city for allowing the piece to be displayed at the airport and called for it’s removal.

    “#Shame on @CityofSanJose government for promoting the killing of our law enforcement officers by displaying this picture at @FlySJC Airport Terminal B. #BackTheBlue,” tweeted Jonathan Fleming, a former San Jose City Council candidate.

    Ashoorina Barreto, who is married to a San Jose police officer, called the image “disgusting,” noting that 265 officers died in the line of duty this year.

    Bui said he wanted to acknowledge the anxieties his art raised.

    “The important thing to me is to not respond to people’s concerns by brushing them off, but rather to listen to why my artwork and the subject matter in general elicits such strong reaction from them,” Bui said.

    Bui said the work is a call for peace.

    “The core emotion of the artwork is rooted in the anger from seeing a man lose his life so publicly after being choked for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. America watched a man die, and we all saw how the country reacted,” Bui told San Jose Spotlight. “In a way, this piece is anti-killing, a direct response to not wanting to see more deaths.”

    Bui said he understands that not everyone will interpret the piece the same way.

    “We don’t want to see more death regardless of who you are, what you look like, what you do,” Bui said. “The red represents that counter-reaction to the death of another human. If the viewer has different interpretations, I can respect it, as art is subjective.”

    The artwork is part of a larger display in a series of 96 artworks by 77 local artists, according to city officials.

    San Jose’s Office of Cultural Affairs partnered with the airport to host the art exhibit, titled Holding the Moment. It was meant to capture local artists’ “interpretations of life during the global pandemic crisis and otherwise challenging times.”

    Police leaders, including California Peace Officers’ Association spokesman Shaun Rundle, said it was was disheartening to see the city “perpetuate the rhetoric of police atrocities.”

    “We know that the vast majority of police contacts on a daily basis are positive, and very rarely, by comparison, is there police misconduct,” Rundle said. “Our hope is that more light is shed on the millions of positive contacts that occur in our nation each and every day while we continue to root out those who bring discredit to our profession.”

    Airport spokesman Scott Wintner told San José Spotlight the airport could not provide details on the art because the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs manages public art.

    A news release announcing the exhibit said the art piece was “inspired by the worldwide protests in 2020 condemning the rampant police brutality that continues to plague the United States.”

    “The imagery reflects a nation frustrated with an ongoing pandemic, as well as atrocities committed by those who were sworn to protect the public,” the description continued.

    Photo courtesy of San Jose Airport.

    Airport leaders in November said a jury of prominent Bay Area artists and arts professionals reviewed 327 submissions. Each selected artwork was awarded a $2,500 prize to support the artists.

    “The culture of travel as we know it changed with the onset of COVID-19,” Director of Aviation John Aitken said. “People were forced to stop traveling, and many were forced to stop working. One thing that continued, however, and perhaps flourished, was the creation of art. COVID-19 inspired incredible adjustments and emotions, and artists are among those most severely impacted.”

    The installation will be displayed through May, the 96 artworks grouped into six parts. The pieces are displayed for five weeks in Terminal B next to baggage claim.

    Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.


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