A sculpture portraying the whistleblowers Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden stood outside the Houses of Parliament in London at the weekend. The protest piece (Anything To Say?), by the Italian artist Davide Dormino, is part of the campaign #DontExtraditeAssange calling for Assange’s release from Belmarsh prison in London. Assange may be extradited to the United States and face legal proceedings for publishing thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents.
An empty chair stood beside the three effigies in Parliament Square, inviting members of the public to stand alongside the three controversial figures. “As an artist I feel I have the duty to defend freedom of speech and the right to know. That is why I have created an empty chair which allows us to stand taller and raise ourselves. It changes our perspective and allows us to look at what we are not shown and what is hidden,” says Dormino in a statement.
He tells The Art Newspaper that the work, conceived by the US writer Charles Glass, will now be shown in Sweden and Norway. The sculptures were first unveiled in Berlin 2015 and have since been seen in Paris, Geneva, Leipzig and Sydney. The sculpture of Manning—who is a trans woman—depicts her pre-transition likeness; Manning underwent gender affirmation surgery in 2018. The work cost around €100,000 which was raised via a crowdfunding campaign and “two [anonymous] enlightened people”, Dormino says.
Manning, a former US soldier, was released from prison May in 2017 after being sentenced in violation of the Espionage Act for disclosing government documents to Wikileaks in 2013. Her aim was to throw light on the ramifications of US foreign policy, but she has been described as one of “America’s more polarising figures”.
Meanwhile in 2013, according to the non-profit National Whistleblower Centre, Snowden—a former intelligence contractor for the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA)—revealed the existence of previously highly classified intelligence-gathering surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency in the United States and the UK’s equivalent, the GCHQ.