Rigo 23’s large-scale homage to long-jailed Native American activist Leonard Peltier will be unveiled Friday for a six-month display in San Francisco, after the FBI had the statue kicked out of Washington, D.C.
It’s been about two years since San Francisco officially stopped calling it Columbus Day and started calling it Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and that particular holiday is coming up this Monday. (There are, of course, still some hard feelings toward Christopher Columbus). But in honor of the upcoming Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the San Francisco Art Institute has announced a Friday unveiling of a Leonard Peltier statue by Rigo 23, an homage the long-incarcerated Native American activist who’s been jailed up since 1977. Rigo 23, as you may recall, is the Portuguese-born San Francisco muralist known for long-loved public art like One Tree, Cars and Birds, and the early days of Clarion Alley murals.
Needless to say, Friday’s 3 p.m. PT unveiling will not be an in-person gathering, but instead a livestream on the SFAI website. Peltier’s family members will be on hand to give remarks.
The venerable San Francisco Art Institute is not to be confused with the similarly named Academy of Art, which is oft considered more of a problematic real estate scheme than a school. And SFAI, in case you missed it, has been in a financial crisis that came to a head this year, but it appears safe for now.
If you’re not familiar, Leonard Peltier is a Native American activist who became a cause celebre in the 1990s when U2, the Indigo Girls, and Rage Against the Machine all did tracks referencing his saga. That saga centers around to the two life sentences he’s been serving over a 1975 shooting of two FBI agents, though the conviction has long been considered suspicious. Peltier actually ran for president (from prison!) in 2004, and was a vice-presidential candidate this year on the Party for Socialism and Liberation ticket, though he dropped out in August for health reasons.
The statue itself is four years old, and has a hell of a history too. Built and painted by Rigo 23 in 2016, it was originally to be placed at American University in Washington, D.C. But the FBI threw a fit and had it removed. The statue’s feet have been removed and taken to Standing Rock and Alcatraz, and Peltier’s statue will face Alcatraz from its spot on the SFAI rooftop terrace.
Also don't forget the annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day sunrise Alcatraz gathering at 6 a.m. Monday, but like everything else this year it will not be in-person, and instead just a broadcast on 94.1 KPFA. There will still likely be some kind of Alcatraz thing on Thanksgiving, but the way things are looking, that’s highly unlikely to be an in-person gathering either.
The Leonard Peltier Statue by Rigo 23, Opening Ceremony with members of Peltier’s Family October 9, 2020; 3-3:30pm PDT, Free, SFAI.edu
Image: The Leonard Peltier Statue by Rigo 23 at the San Francisco Art Institute, 2020. Photo by Alex Peterson