The “He Will Not Divide Us” Flag Collected and Returned to the Artist | Local News
A controversial piece of art brought to Greene County in 2017 and subsequently stolen is once again in the hands of its creator.
British artist Luke Turner, who collaborated on the “He Will Not Divide Us” project with actor Shia LaBoeuf and artist Nastja Säde Rönkkö, confirmed this week that the work had been recovered by the FBI and had him been made.
Even though the theft took place in 2017, Turner wrote in an email that he never gave up hope that the “He Shall Not Divide Us” flag artwork would be salvaged.
“I can confirm that my HEWILLNOTDIVIDE.US the artwork has been recovered by the FBI and is in my possession again, ”Turner said.
Turner called the authors “neo-Nazis”. The FBI did not respond this week to requests for information about the investigation or the charges against those responsible.
“After four years and a month of exhaustive effort, (the) works of art… stolen in a high-profile neo-Nazi night raid in the United States, have been recovered. This represents the latest chapter in one of the most publicized contemporary art thefts of recent years, and possibly the only such crime perpetrated by organized Nazis against a Jewish artist since the 1940s, ”Turner wrote.
The 3ft x 4.5ft hand-sewn flag “was recovered through the concerted efforts of a small but dedicated international network of anti-fascist scholars, art professionals and members of the public. who had helped locate the artwork since the day of the theft, ”Turner wrote.
“He Will Not Divide Us” is a participatory art performance that began as a message projected on a wall at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York. The coin was launched in January 2017 as part of a “long-running work of art broadcast live” scheduled to coincide with Donald Trump’s inauguration as president.
GREENE COUNTY CONNECTION
LaBeouf arrived in Greene County in March 2017 with the intention of locating the “He Shall Not Divide Us” flag on Rachel Bewley’s property. His local arrival sparked intense speculation on social media.
Photos of LaBoeuf on March 6, 2017, in places like Aunt Bea’s restaurant, began to circulate. LaBoeuf was missing on March 10, 2017. But the flag Bewley had agreed to place on his property was also missing.
“He Will Not Divide Us” was part of a series of collaborative art projects between Turner, LaBeouf and Rönkkö, who had previously worked together.
The flag was designed as a piece of performing art that the trio had displayed in New York City and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
He was removed from Bewley’s property by a group opposed to the “He will not divide us” message.
Bewley said in interviews in March 2017 that after the flag was placed on her property and shown on a live web stream, she and her family had to deal with intruders and even a small fire in a field that started after the fireworks shot. his court.
Bewley offered a comment on Friday.
“No one involved in the attacks here suffered any consequences for their actions. There has been no acknowledgment of crimes committed (such as) harassment, harassment, trespassing, theft and arson by local law enforcement, ”Bewley said.
“It is disheartening to see the events that have unfolded since 2017 presented as a hopeful story about the FBI’s recovery of stolen property without a thorough discussion of the involvement of local officials,” Bewley said.
After LaBeouf had an altercation in February 2017 in New York City with someone protesting the artwork, she was moved to Albuquerque, according to the Associated Press.
At the time, LaBeouf told a reporter: “We are against the normalization of the division. That’s it. The rest of the information is there, boss. I have nothing else to tell you.
The artists’ website, thecampaignbook.com, described the project as “open to everyone, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” The participatory performance was broadcast live at www.hewillnotdivide.us continuously for four years.
“In this way, the mantra” HE WILL NOT DIVIDE US “acts as a display of resistance or insistence, opposition or optimism, guided by the spirit of each participant and the community,” Turner wrote. .
After gunshots were heard near the flag in New Mexico, it was dismantled and moved to Greene County.
Bewley said in the 2017 interview that she received a call from the artists, asking to move the flag to her property in Tennessee and continue to display it on a live streaming link.
In New York, attendees were invited to speak the words “he will not divide us” in front of a camera. In Greene County, the artwork was to consist of a live broadcast of a white flag, with the phrase written on it in capital letters. Nothing would be visible in the shot other than the waving flag.
Bewley had previously worked with LaBeouf, Turner, and Rönkkö, having met them at an art show in Colorado in 2016, and continued to do so for several years.
Turner wrote that the artwork “was created as an explicit symbol of resistance to the division of the last US presidency and the wider reactionary changes around the world of which this was symptomatic.”
As a result of media coverage that brought the project “He will not divide us” to the public’s attention, “He has also become the target of violent attacks from the far right, of which the far right is hard to overestimate, and that led to the job having to be moved multiple times, ”Turner wrote.
The flag was still missing, but the artwork message was displayed in other formats in other places. HEWILLNOTDIVIDE.US “continued to broadcast from a number of different art institutions across Europe,” Turner wrote.
He has been the subject of “numerous cases of white supremacist vandalism, more than two dozen bomb threats directed against the museum that hosts him in New York, two arson attacks, the second of which was carried out by a drone from the artistic institution in France to which the work had been moved, ”Turner wrote.
The theft of the artwork from the Tennessee site in March 2017 was seen firsthand by Turner and others as it happened, “both online and offline. line”.
He wrote that two of the identified perpetrators were members of a neo-Nazi group that “had done everything possible to brag about the theft over the following weeks” and posted several photographs of the stolen artwork on the networks. social “extreme right”. platforms.
“Efforts to recover the artwork via the authorities were fruitless at first, and a possible visit by local police to the (suspects’) home almost a year later in early 2018 has makes a void, ”Turner wrote. At this point, it seemed likely that they had passed on the looted artwork to an associate, and the chances of ever recovering it seemed slim. “
Towards the end of 2019, Turner received a Facebook message from an art curator friend. She had seen what appeared to be the flag after an online search led her to a photo of a man wearing a “White Power” t-shirt, standing in front of the flag hanging on a wall next to a musket.
“It looks like the actual stolen flag… It’s my baby,” Turner replied.
The image was taken from a 2019 photo essay by a Reuters photographer in The Independent, a UK online newspaper.
Turner wrote that the man in the photo lived in Arkansas and was part of a now defunct neo-Nazi group based there. The man pleaded guilty in 2019 in an unrelated Arkansas case to terrorist threat and 3rd degree battery after he and two others beat and injured a gay man.
If the man “had preserved the stolen work of art since the publication of these images, it could have been the necessary breakthrough to guarantee its restitution. I wasted no time passing this new information on to the FBI Art Crime team, ”Turner wrote.
Turner wrote that much of the (news) coverage at the time of the theft chose not only to ignore the nature of the attacks, but to turn the story in the very opposite direction. What was actually part of a long campaign of stalking by a dangerously engaged and obsessive neo-Nazi hate group with intent to do harm – perhaps the most frightening targeting imaginable to experience as a person Jewish – has been presented by many as nothing more than “lagging behind,” Turner wrote.
He wrote that the tone of media coverage began to change after the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., In which a protester was murdered.
Turner wrote that he was subsequently the victim of “overt anti-Semitic bait” from factions in the “reactionary art world.”
Turner was contacted in late 2020 by an FBI agent, who told him the flag had been recovered.
“While the exact details of the operation to physically recover the artwork could not be disclosed, and while this does not represent justice for the actions of those responsible, it was nonetheless a moment of immense catharsis, knowing that what was taken from me would be returned, ”Turner wrote.
The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the return of the flag to Turner.
“I was further asked to wait until after the November election for the artwork to be returned, such was the political sensibility and symbolism of the artwork, and the nervousness of the FBI department to l ‘idea to embark on a diplomatic incident, “he wrote.
The flag was returned to Turner earlier this year.
“Being able to handle the flag up close once again makes it clear that he has lived a life in those four long years. He now wears various spots and splashes, with his rope roughly cut by the flight. But the flag remained intact, shining in its modest way, ”he wrote.
“It is, for me, the magic force of art; the ability for us to imbue it with shared and connective values, as well as its resilience and immutability in the face of those who would like to see those values destroyed, but never get there, ”Turner wrote.
He wrote in an email this week that the return of the flag “certainly looked like a moment of catharsis, but also quite surreal and bewildering to see in these photographs exactly where my creation was, in the hands of neo-Nazis. and close to the darkest of ideologies.
While the long-running artwork ended on January 20, with the end of the live broadcast in France, Turner wrote that “the broader dangers posed by the groups involved in my targeting and my works still persist, along with those associated with the neo-Nazis. the groups and personalities I refer to in the art world always target me and continue to threaten many others.
“Still, getting the artwork back after all this time is pretty symbolic,” he wrote.