The French-born, London-based artist covertly installed modified “yield” signs at street crossings throughout London, but one featuring the silhouette of a Hasidic man and placed in Stamford Hill — a neighborhood that’s home to Europe’s largest community of Hasidic Jews — some 600 feet from a synagogue was taken to mean “beware of Jews.”
The neighborhood watch group, Shomrim NE London, reported the sign to the Metropolitan Police and the local Hackney Council, which removed it yesterday. In response to the public outcry, the artist made a public apology.
“It was a project about crossing the road,” Allais told the Guardian, “how everyone is different, everyone has an identity. There is not only one sign in the street. I put more signs up in the street, but only this one got noticed. I am sorry for any offense caused.”
The artist’s other signs also depict the silhouettes of Londoners he’d witnessed crossing the streets in the areas where they were installed — a parent pushing a stroller, an older woman pulling a cart, a man in a wheelchair, even a cat — though the Stamford Hill sign seems to be the only one based on a marker of religious or ethnic difference. Despite his innocent intentions, Allais set off fears in a neighborhood sensitive and sadly accustomed to public expressions of intolerance — particularly since anti-semitic incidents rose 36% in the UK last year.
“I’m very pleased that he has apologized but rather surprised at his lack of sensitivity and knowledge that a sign like this could prove to be offensive,” Rabbi Herschel Gluck, the president of Shomrim in Stamford Hill, told the Guardian. “Especially with people who have been traumatized in recent history by similar signs barring them from professions and parks. … You have to think about the people you are talking about and the type of message and type of meaning it would have for them.”
Hyperallergic contacted Allais for further comment on his guerrilla project, but received no response.