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Laurence Jenkell’s “Candy Nations” (2011) Saudi flag sculpture (via @MikeLongoNYC/Twitter)

Not everyone who’s encountered French artist Laurence Jenkell’s set of enormous candy wrapper sculptures at the World Trade Center (WTC) finds them so sweet.

Sponsored by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, “Candy Nations” honors the G20 countries with a series of 9-foot-tall statues of their flags shaped as glossy packaging. The exhibition has previously gone on display in New York City’s Garment District and the Port Authority Bus Terminal without issue. But when the sculpture series arrived just outside the WTC’s Oculus building, passersby criticized Jenkell’s work on social media; in particular, some objected to the Saudi Arabian flag’s presence so close to the 9/11 Memorial grounds.

To resolve the controversy, Port Authority will move “Candy Nations” to John F. Kennedy International Airport later this week.

Saudi Arabia is a member of the G20, an international forum of 19 governments and the European Union founded in 1999 to steer policy decisions toward international financial stability. Originally commissioned in 2011 for that year’s G20 Summit in Cannes, France, the sculptures have traveled the world with support from organizations like the Chanel Foundation, the International Olympic Committee, and Coca-Cola.

For years, public officials have accused Saudi Arabia of harboring terrorists linked to the September 11 tragedy. (15 of the 19 hijackers involved in the attacks were Saudi nationals.) In 2016, Congress overrode President Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Terrorism Act (JUSTA) that allowed the Kingdom to be sued in US court for its citizens’ roles in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Victims’ families and survivors of the 9/11 attacks have tried to sue Saudi Arabia in American court three times, most recently in January 2018. In an attempt to link members of the Saudi royal family to the financing of Al Qaeda, lawyers for the 9/11 families later released government documents, financial records, and testimony to The New York Times that linked a Saudi charity to the terrorist organization. Representatives for the Saudis have denied such accusations.

Terry Strada, national chair of 9/11 Families and Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism, fought for the JUSTA legislation limiting sovereign immunity. She was also involved in the fight to remove Jenkell’s Saudi candy wrapper from public view at WTC. “I personally think the Saudi ‘flag’ candy display shows very poor judgment and a lack of empathy on the part of the Port Authority,” she told Buzzfeed News. After speaking with the publication, she reached out to the Port Authority to express her dismay.

In a statement to New York Observer, Jenkell acknowledged the controversy surrounding her Saudi candy wrapper. “Given the unique and justified sensitivities surrounding the World Trade Center, it came to my mind to propose to remove the sculpture showcasing the flag of Saudi Arabia, or relocate it to a less sensitive location,” she wrote. “But there is no way I can do such a thing as the flag of Saudi Arabia is entirely part of the G20 just like any other candy flag of this Candy Nations show. And G20 is all about that: Peace, Unity and Love among mankind. Exactly [the] same meaning as my candy flags sculptures bringing joy and happiness to everyone on earth.”

Announcing its decision to remove the entire exhibition from the WTC site, Port Authority plans to mount “Candy Nations” at JFK International Airport, likely by the end of this week.

“We have been in contact with the 9/11 Memorial and various stakeholders, and in full collaboration with the artist will relocate the exhibit from its current location,” Steve Colman, Port Authority’s deputy director of media relations told Hyperallergic over email. “We believe this solution respects the unique sensitivities of the site and preserves the artistic integrity of the exhibit.”

Each of Jenkell’s twenty sculptures weighs approximately 1,450 pounds. The transportation and reinstallation costs for an exhibition of this size would likely cost tens of thousands of dollars. Taxpayers may ultimately foot the bill for the relocation if Port Authority, a public entity, handles the project itself. Hyperallergic has not yet received a response from the Port Authority after multiple requests since Tuesday, January 15 requesting comment concerning who would pay for the logistical costs of relocating “Candy Nations.”

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Zachary Small

Zachary Small was the senior writer at Hyperallergic and has written for The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Nation, The Times Literary Supplement, Artforum, and other publications. They have...