A mock gold statue of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been taken down by officials in the German city of Wiesbaden after it divided opinion and led to clashes. The controversial work by an anonymous artist, which was unveiled on Monday (August 27) as part of the Wiesbaden Biennale—this year’s edition is titled “Bad News”—soon required massive police protection. After initially defending the work to safeguard artistic freedom, the city decided last night that it should come down because of fears for the public’s safety.
Measuring 13-feet-tall and weighing two tonnes, the statue shows the Turkish politician with a raised right arm and pointed finger, which drew references to Saddam Hussein’s monument that was toppled in Bahgdad in 2003. It was soon vandalized with statements, such as “Turkish Hitler,” and “Fuck You” being graffited onto it. On Tuesday morning (August 28), despite upheaval, the city reaffirmed that the work would remain in place, but with a security presence. More police were called in to protect the work and keep the peace after reports of disputes turning violent. and by Tuesday evening, around 100 police officers and troops secured the site. Though this restored a relative calm, by midnight on Tuesday night, the city reversed its decision and opted to remove the work.
In their official statement, the city emphasized the importance of protecting the freedom of art. However, the office pointed out that “having to protect an art installation day and night with a massive police force in order to maintain public safety and order was not proportionate.”
The artist behind the sculpture remains deliberately anonymous, mas part of the biennial’s concept. Wiesbaden State Theater director Uwe Eric Laufenberg defended the work, saying that the installation’s purpose was to provoke a debate. “In a democracy, one must tolerate all opinions,” he told German media.
Turkish-German relations have been strained in the past years, as Erdogan has tightened his grip on the country in response to the failed military coup in 2016. There are at least 2.7 million German residents with Turkish descent, which further intensifies matters between the two countries. In 2017, German reporter Deniz Yücel was imprisoned in the country within a string of arrests of Turkish journalists. Erdogan had also filed criminal charges against German television comedian Jan Böhmermann in 2016 over a satirical poem he included in his show that year (prosecutors later dropped the chargers). At the foot of the sculpture short-lived instalment in Wiesbaden, someone had installed a lone candle with a sign commemorating the “freedom of the press”.