Arizona Show with Shepard Fairey Work About Police Brutality Is Postponed, Prompting Censorship Allegations

The Arizonan city of Mesa is facing censorship allegations after a show of politically oriented street art was abruptly delayed. According to Arizona’s Family, a local news station, the specific reason for the postponement was one work: a Shepard Fairey piece about police brutality.

That work, a print called My Florist Is a Dick (2015), shows a police officer in riot gear holding a baton that sprouts a red flower. “My florist is a dick. When his day starts, your day ends,” text accompanying the image reads.

Fairey, a well-known artist who also designed Barack Obama’s “Hope” poster, has said the figure in My Florist Is a Dick refers to the 1988 John Carpenter film They Live. Crafted following the shooting of Michael Brown by the police officer Darren Wilson the year before, the work also responds to Fairey’s own experiences with police brutality: he has stated that he was denied insulin for his diabetes while imprisoned and that he has been hit in the face by a police officer. He has also said that “cops are often dicks who abuse power.”

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His work was to appear in a show held at the Mesa Arts Center’s Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum. Also set to figure in the show were works by Swoon, Thomas “Breeze” Marcus, and Douglas Miles.

The center’s former assistant director, Rob Schultz, told Arizona’s Family that the work’s subject matter had proven an issue for city officials.

“Mesa runs libraries. I’ll bet the library has books that deal with police brutality, and I’ll bet the library has newspapers,” he told the network. “When there’s an incident of police brutality in the newspapers, they don’t pull them off the shelf and not allow people to see them.”

In response to the allegations, the city of Mesa issued a statement in which it attributed the exhibition’s postponement to unfinished contracts with artists and the content of one unnamed work.

“Six weeks before the opening of the fall exhibits at the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum artists’ contracts had not yet been finalized,” the city said in its statement. “There were also questions about the potential impact of text in one of the works that could be disparaging toward some City of Mesa employees. Postponing the exhibit would allow Mesa to review its processes and evaluate the impact of the message associated with the display.”

The city said that it followed up with artists by phone “when phone numbers were available” to let them know about the postponement.

“It is our intent to bring the artists back and reschedule them as part of a group exhibition or solo exhibition in the future if so desired,” the city of Mesa said.

The controversy loosely recalls another one that faced an art center in Newberg, Oregon, last week, when the artist Demian DinéYazhi’ alleged that the space had censored their work by removing a piece referring to the push to defund the police in 2020. The Chehalem Cultural Center later apologized to DinéYazhi’, saying that while its staff had faced “troubling attacks,” it had also “failed” to uphold its mission of supporting the community.

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