On January 20, 2017, Shia LaBeouf, Luke Turner, and Nastja Säde Rönkkö opened the participatory exhibit “He Will Not
On January 20, 2017, Shia LaBeouf, Luke Turner, and Nastja Säde Rönkkö opened the participatory exhibit “He Will Not Divide Us.” Previously, the three collaborated on LaBeouf’s “#IAMSORRY” show in 2013. The newest exhibit comprised of a video camera mounted on a wall outside of the Museum of Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. It was to record bystanders that were invited to face the camera and say “He will not divide us” with the purpose of admonishing President Donald Trump.
The exhibit, meant to endure the entirety of Trump’s presidency, was shut down on February 10, 2017, not even one month after its opening. In its duration, LaBeouf appeared on camera several times. Since the exhibit was meant to record at all hours of the day, it caught the altercations LaBeouf was involved in, one of which includes him questioning how antisemitism is allowed in our society and using expletives to do so. Later, LaBeouf, while continuing to shout, “He will not divide us!”, is approached by a police officer, handcuffed, and arrested on misdemeanor assault and harassment. It was reported that the altercation began when a Neo-Nazi Trump supporter was spewing anti-Semitic comments at LaBeouf, provoking him to pull at the Neo-Nazi’s scarf and scratching him in the process.
The need for a constant police presence and the violence and danger that the exhibit garnered are the reasons the Museum of Moving Image closed the exhibit.
The exhibit was then moved twice—the first time to the El Rey Theatre in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which was removed due to gunshots nearby, and then to an undisclosed location with an embellished “He Will Not Divide Us” flag, where alt-right activists destroyed the exhibit.
However, LaBeouf persevered, moving his exhibit to Liverpool at the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology. His new location only lasted one day before the gallery received police advice to shut down the exhibit after reports that a group of men were trespassing around the gallery’s building. Supposedly, the trespassers were members of an alt-right discussion board on 4chan that were determined to deter LaBeouf’s exhibit.
As of October 17, 2017, le lieu unique in Nantes, France has taken on the project. The “He Will Not Divide Us” flag can be seen billowing in the wind to this day.
LaBeouf, Turner, and Rönkkö’s thought-provoking exhibit calls to question the freedom of speech. The exhibit is art, but it is silenced in the United States, completely abandoned by American galleries and museums. Punished by the majority, the artistic trio is forced to display the exhibit in other countries where their message’s strength is lessened, as it is not in the heart of the country where the issue lies. Furthermore, LaBeouf, a Jewish man, was punished for defending himself against a Neo-Nazi, someone who hates LaBeouf down to his DNA. Where does freedom of speech stop being a right and begin to be a crime? The Neo-Nazi was spreading hateful and harmful ideology, whereas LaBeouf’s exhibit is a peaceful art exhibit and protest (and was only turned violent when protestors arrived on the scene). Yes, LaBeouf’s reaction was technically assault, but his exhibit is a participatory art. Those who were on camera chose to be featured; they chose to be a part of this work. By yelling anti-Semitic comments at the creator of the work, was LaBeouf truly in the wrong and deserving of arrest? Both he and the protestors are participants in an artwork, so the line of art and crime is extremely blurred.