The familiar silhouette of Spanish artist Jaume Plensa’s Spillover II has been absent from its Atwater Park overlook since November 16. Currently it is in Chicago, where a team of artists are carefully removing the anti-Semitic slurs like as “cheap jew,” and “fry bad jew,” discovered by Matt Sweetwood, New Jersey blogger.
Shortly afterward, Sweetwood wrote about his discovery on his blog, and within days, Plensa himself issued an apology and oversaw the statue’s removal and repair. The fate of the sculpture has yet to be determined. In its absence, some villagers have rallied around Spillover II and challenged the validity of Sweetwood’s accusations. Others have recognized the need for thoughtfulness in such a sensitive situation.
We, the editors, accept both reactions as appropriate, but we believe that by the conclusion of the debate, the sculpture should be reinstalled into its original placement.We also do not tolerate the way that Sweetwood used Plensa, the Shorewood community and the Jewish voice to propel his own online image.
Although Sweetwood insisted otherwise in a previous interview, Plensa was definitely victimized. As a non-English speaker who has historically worked with the Jewish community – in 2013, Plensa submitted designs for a Holocaust memorial in Ohio – it is incredible to think that he crafted the anti-Semitic remarks intentionally. That being said, Plensa still apologized profusely for any offense his artwork caused and personally saw that it was corrected. In his interview with Ripples, Sweetwood was less than forgiving.
“Those are pretty simple English words and he does know enough English,” Sweetwood said. “He is not like this poor, starving artist working in a cave.”
However, when Plensa spoke to our community during the first installment of Spillover II, he could hardly speak our language. The assumption that Plensa speaks English fluently enough to recognize every English word in a statue made entirely of letters was rash; Plensa could easily miss a few foreign words if he could hardly give a speech to Shorewood’s residents.
In an interview with Ripples published in Issue 4, Sweetwood goes so far as to draw comparisons of the anti-Semitism supposedly propagated by the statue to the anti-Semitism pervasive in pre-Holocaust Europe.
“As Jews, we have an expression that says ‘never again.’ You stand up for any kind of hate speech. And so even though it’s a relatively minor thing and theoretically no one would have ever seen it,” said Sweetwood. “I couldn’t stand idly by and watch it happen. The thing with hate is that ignoring hate is condoning it.”
He went on to say that his only aim in speaking out against what he perceived to be anti-Semitic was to respect his ancestors who died in the Holocaust.
Days after Spillover II was removed, Sweetwood posted on his blog again and revealed that his true interests lay closer to achieving internet recognition, and he proceed to congratulate himself on “Six days from Submit to Pick-up Truck,” even offering tips to other bloggers. The full article is still available on his blog.
The sculpture was doomed the minute Sweetwood started typing. Anything other than removing Spillover II would have confirmed Sweetwood’s allegations, whether or not we bought them.
Fortunately, Plensa’s intervention prevented a total surrender. However, our good intentions were not an admission of guilt, but an act of cultural sensitivity that quickly became an accessory to Sweetwood’s Internet power play.
Sweetwood does not speak for the Jewish people. In fact, he misrepresents them. By crying offense at the trivial on behalf of Jews everywhere, he damages the credibility of the group he pretends to represent. Anti-Semitism is a very real issue, which has, within the last 70 years, taken the lives of more than six million Jews. Even today, it poses a sinister threat to the Jewish community. The serious nature of anti-Semitism is devalued when it is invoked meaninglessly to create online sensation.
The fact that Sweetwood would exploit the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust is despicable. As a Jew himself, it is hard to imagine how Sweetwood can justify what he did.
As an editorial body composed 25% of Jews, some of whom are descendants of Holocaust survivors, we feel we can credibly question Sweetwood’s position, and we urge others to do the same. As the village begins to discuss Spillover II’s fate, they must remain cognizant of Sweetwood’s intentions.