SANTA FE, New Mexico — About five years ago, a set of posters appeared on an adobe wall on the corner of Old Pecos Trail and Camino Lejo — an intersection that sits at the gateway to Santa Fe’s famed Museum Hill and is situated on one of the city’s main arteries. The signs were put up by a local organization called Santa Feans for Justice in Palestine, and depicted pro-Palestinian slogans and images, including images of Palestinian children who were killed during Operation Protective Edge, a 2014 military campaign by Israel Defense Forces in Gaza.
The posters were soon torn down by an objector, and a years-long campaign ensued. The wall, which belongs to Santa Fe resident Guthrie Miller, has had dozens of iterations of posters, signs, and art on it over the years, all with similar messaging. “As a private citizen, I would like to see more murals and wall art that have some political merit,” Miller told Hyperallergic. The signs have been vandalized or destroyed every time. After that first incident, Miller applied for a permit with the city — which is required, since his property is in a historic district — and has only displayed the city-approved three-by-five foot signs since.
That is, until January 4, when a Navajo activist and artist who goes by the name Remy installed a series of large-scale works on the wall, each depicting an image taken from the news. Remy, who had heard about Santa Feans for Justice in Palestine and their frequent attempts to display pro-Palestinian imagery on this wall, installed the work without permission, though Miller intends to keep it. “I wanted to widen the field of vision for that struggle, rather than relegate it into predetermined spaces. You can imagine where the indigenous analogies play into all of that,” he told Hyperallergic. The images are life-size renderings of photographs of Palestinian children and civilians and IDF soldiers, and might be familiar to those who have seen them circulating online. They include a solider pointing a gun at a family, a father shielding his 12-year-old son Muhammad al-Durah from a soldier, a 14-year-old boy named Faris Odeh throwing a rock at a tank, and a teenage boy named Fawzi al-Junaidi being carried blindfolded by a group of soldiers.
“I lived with a Palestinian family in the US around the time 9/11 happened,” Remy said. “There were a lot of connections we were making in terms of our indigenous struggles.” The artist likened his own resistance to that Faris Odeh, the young boy depicted facing a tank. “Even though I’m using everything in my arsenal, I’m up against armor and steel,” he said. Remy also created a video work of the project, which can be found on his Instagram page. “Art should move you to change,” he emphasized.
The Jewish community of Santa Fe is divided over the issue. “Why is Israel singled out as an aggressor when there are many troubled spots in the world?” asked Rabbi Berel Levertov of the Santa Fe Jewish Center-Chabad. “There are many facets to the story and to highlight Israel is just anti-semitic propaganda.” Rabbi Levertov said he hoped someone would create a work of art depicting other aspects of life in the region, such as Jews and Arabs living in peace. The intention of the mural on Old Pecos Trail, he said, is “not to promote peace, but to instigate and inspire hate. And in today’s environment with the rise in anti-semitism, this is not serving any goodness in the world.” He called the comparison with Native American struggles in the US “unfortunate propaganda” and “just not factually correct, because Jews are Indigenous to the land.”
Jeff Haas, an organizer for Santa Feans for Justice in Palestine, met Guthrie Miller through the Occupy movement in 2012. An integral part of their message, he told Hyperallergic, is to “stop military aid to Israel. All these things are financed by and diplomatically supported by the United States.” Haas, who is Jewish, has largely been behind the previous signage on Miller’s wall, but Remy’s work was a surprise to him as well. “Our organization endorses it, and we’ve gotten a tremendous amount of reaction to it being up there, mostly positive,” he said. “These are larger and much more difficult to destroy.”
Santa Fe resident Richard Lieberman protested to being forced to see the murals while driving through town. “I have to drive by this wall every day? It’s anti-semitic,” he said. “It plays into age-old dangerous and false anti-Jewish tropes. Here we are, 75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, and we are facing an uptick in dangerous rhetoric that reminds us of those dark times. What we fear is that after the murals come the swastikas.”
In response to accusations of anti-semitism, Remy told the Santa Fe New Mexican: “It’s not anti-Semitic to be sympathetic to a humanitarian crisis.”
Guthrie Miller and Rabbi Levertov are planning to sit down with a small group to discuss their differing points of view about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and any parallels to the history of indigenous displacement and genocide in the United States. “I would love to meet the artist, and I hope he can attend,” Rabbi Levertov said.
On Monday, January 13, the city of Santa Fe ruled that the murals were not approved under the historic preservation code, and would have to be removed within two weeks. The decision was unrelated to the content of the work; it was due to the medium of papier maché not being included on the list of acceptable materials for exterior walls in a historic district. In response to this decision, Remy told Hyperallergic he was “curious to know who the people are on this board that makes decisions on what is deemed ‘historic’ on Tewa land. … In Santa Fe it seems to be fine to be indigenous but only on the other side of the glass, in terms of the number of institutions that capitalize on our culture.”