Sac State alumnus’ swastika sculpture benched from ArtStreet extravaganza

This article was originally published on StateHornet.com on Feb. 7, 2017.


When artist Heston Hurley arrived at the abandoned warehouse on First Avenue to attend to his swastika-shaped bench installed for the pop-up ArtStreet exhibit on Friday, he was asked to leave by an event coordinator.

Hurley said a woman working with ArtStreet, who he ended up in a heated exchange with, told him that the bench was no longer allowed in the exhibit because it was a totally different design than one he submitted in the proposal during the approval process.

“I was not the only (artist to show a different design),” Hurley said. “I think it was the content of my art piece that was so upsetting.”

The Sacramento State interior architecture alumnus’ bench takes the shape of a swastika with red, white and blue painted on all sides and a large white star in the center.

For Hurley, he said the bench was meant to be used as a space where dialogues can flow freely without judgment, given the political climate in the country at the moment.

It was also a statement intended to take back the symbol from its negative connotation, made infamous after World War II, and instead, celebrate its history of being a sacred symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism from at least 11,000 years ago.

Hurley said he wanted to use the bench, decked out in the tricolor of American patriotism, to get people to think and move forward together.

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The wooden swastika-shaped bench painted with red, white and blue stripes was displayed at the abandoned warehouse on First Avenue — the location of ArtStreet — before being removed by the event coordinators. (Photo courtesy of Heston Hurley)

However, these messages were lost, Hurley said, when his sculpture was shown for a brief 24 hours at ArtStreet, which is a 23-day pop-up art experience from Feb. 3 to 25 — put on by M5Arts, the masterminds behind last year’s popular Art Hotel exhibit — showcasing the work of more than 100 artists, sculptors and photographers from around the world in downtown Sacramento.“I’m not a Nazi and I’m not a racist,” Hurley said. “I knew that it was going evoke some types of emotional responses, whether that be positive or negative. I can do puppy dogs and kitty cats. Everyone likes that (but) that doesn’t say anything.”

Hurley said he brought configurations of the bench sculpture to the warehouse early Thursday. When he was away for a quick nap, a few people working at the event, who knew of the design concept, assembled the pieces into the swastika shape without his knowledge and displayed it to the public.

As Hurley returned to the warehouse later that evening, he saw that the bench was already dismantled, drinks were spilled on various spots and people were kicking it in anger.

Hurley said that he believes the decision to remove his piece from the installation has to do with a consensus from the artists and public patrons who were at the site for the first night’s VIP reception.

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Pieces of the bench are placed in a studio before being installed at the warehouse on First Avenue. (Photo courtesy of Heston Hurley)

Scott Eggert, a spokesman for ArtStreet and member of M5Arts, insists that the decision to pull the piece has no political motives, but rather the fact that the swastika design did not go through M5Arts’ curatorial process.

Eggert also said that Hurley’s submission file indicates that the artist proposed to exhibit a metal sculpture, but instead, a set of wooden benches with latex paint were displayed on the day of.

Per the mistreatments toward the bench, Eggert said that M5Arts co-founder Shaun Burner has extended an apology to Hurley and is willing to personally fix any damage caused at the scene of the installation.

“While I sympathize with (Hurley) on the fact that he worked over five days on (the bench), there are over 100 other artists who have been working over two months on their artworks,” Eggert said. “(These artists) developed their works along our curatorial framework to fit in with the collection of arts at ArtStreet.”

As a prominent player in the art community at Sac State, graduate student Mustafa Shaheen, who has worked with Hurley in the same studio in the past, said that the sculptor’s anger was “absolutely justifiable,” even if that was directed more toward the fact the piece was shown to the public without Hurley’s consent.

“Whether (the decision of ArtStreet’s coordinators) was politics-based or not, I can’t say,” Shaheen said. “But why should Heston (Hurley) censor anything? This is ArtStreet, not your local cafe.”

Eggert said that even if the interaction between Hurley and the woman involved with the event on Friday was loud and discourteous, he still respects the Sac State alum and hopes that Hurley wouldn’t be hesitated to join M5Arts in future projects.

In a Facebook status posted on Saturday, Hurley wrote that the incident won’t make him boycott the event as he still fully supports the unique festivities.

“Somebody said to me that (the swastika) is a symbol of hate, and I said “You know the cross can be viewed that way too?’” Hurley said. “We may seem divided at this point (so) let’s sit down, have a dialogue and let’s show how we’re all the same and not how we’re all different.”