Once-banned statue of Leonard Peltier exhibiting at Richmond Art Center

Once-banned statue of Leonard Peltier exhibiting at Richmond Art Center
Photos by Mike Kinney

By Kathy Chouteau

An exhibition of a sculpture that was almost immediately censored during its first showing is now on display at the Richmond Arts Center (RAC).

“Time and Again,” on display now through Nov. 18 in the Main Gallery, is an exhibition centered on Rigo 23’s statue of Native American activist Leonard Peltier, who is serving two life terms in prison for the murders of two FBI agents during a shootout on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota on June 26, 1975. While Native American activists describe Peltier as a political prisoner who was wrongly convicted, the FBI argues that his conviction was just.

According to the RAC, the sculpture stretches 12 feet high and anchors the exhibited narrative of Peltier’s ongoing, 45-year long incarceration, which includes—for the first time—photos, letters, artwork, posters and more stemming from Rigo’s collection.

In sharing the collection of Peltier-related artifacts, “the artist invites the visitors for an intimate and informal conversation, one that illuminates the artist’s more than two decade long journey” that offers historical context that helps illuminate the activist’s “ongoing cruel predicament,” per the RAC.

A hand-painted self-portrait Peltier made in prison has provided the basis for Rigo’s sculpture, which is made of California redwood, foam, plywood and metal, said the RAC. The 9’ x 6’ base of the work echoes the dimensions of a prison cell.

As with past showings, the current exhibition includes photographs of people standing in solidarity on the statue’s detachable feet, according to the RAC, which hosted that section of the statue this past summer. The statue’s feet have also traveled to sites of Native resistance nationwide, such as Standing Rock, Alcatraz Island, Wounded Knee, Crow Dog’s Paradise and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, according to the RAC.

After its completion in 2016, Rigo’s Peltier sculpture debuted at Washington D.C.’s Katzen Art Center at the American University, where it was almost immediately censored, taken off display and kept from the artist for a year, said the RAC. The actions were revealed to be caused by a bomb threat and complaints from the FBI Agents Association to the university’s president, which occurred the same day. The artist has exhibited it in Los Angeles and San Francisco since receiving it back.

For more info about Rigo’s Time and Again exhibition, click here. The RAC is located at 2540 Barrett Ave. in Richmond. Gallery Hours are: Thurs., 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sat., 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or by appointment, call 510-620-6772.