(NEW YORK)— The postponement of an exhibition in Mesa, AZ at the direction of city officials who objected to a piece by Shepherd Fairey showing a skeletal police officer in riot gear, sets up a “chilling precedent” and should be rescinded, PEN America said today.

The exhibition Facing the Giant: Three Decades of Dissent, focuses on genocide, social justice, and related themes, was scheduled to open in the fall at the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum.

My Florist is a Dick“ by Fairey reportedly drew the ire of officials in Mesa. The work, which was part of the artist’s traveling exhibition, depicts a police officer in riot gear with the shadowy face of a skeleton clutching a nightstick with a flower blooming from one end. 

Numerous regional news outlets are reporting that the postponement was spurred by a request from city officials to remove a piece from the exhibition over concerns it would offend municipal police officers. 

In response to the postponement, PEN America’s William Johnson, director of PEN Across America, said: “The right to freely critique and satirize government is not only a cornerstone of the First Amendment but a grounding principle for democratically-aligned art movements. This postponement sets up a chilling precedent, sending a message that only state-endorsed art is fit for public consumption, and that only state-endorsed ideas should be the basis for public cultural conversations. This exhibition should be allowed to proceed immediately.“

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org 

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057