Iraqi-born artist Wafaa Bilal’s controversial video game exhibit, which culminates in the player attempting to shoot President Bush, has triggered a lawsuit against the city of Troy, New York, according to the Albany Times-Union.
As GamePolitics readers may recall, Bilal, a faculty member at the Art Institute of Chicago, was invited to present his Virtual Jihadi exhibit at Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute in March.
RPI’s Republican Club, however, objected to Virtual Jihadi, which Bilal said was designed to show how US policy in Iraq has encouraged terrorism. School officials subsequently ordered the exhibit off campus. A local venue, the Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy, then offered Bilal the opportunity to display his work.
On opening night local Republican leader Robert Mirch, who also happens to be Troy’s Public Works commissioner, led a protest outside the exhibit. The following day, Troy code enforcement officials (who work for Mirch) shut the Sanctuary down over building code violations involving its doors.
The Sanctuary, assisted by the New York Civil Liberties Union, has notified Troy that it will file a lawsuit against the city as well as Mirch. Said Melanie Trimble executive director of NYCLU’s Capital Region chapter:
City officials cannot selectively enforce building codes to shut down an art exhibition they find distasteful… City officials cannot chill free speech in this city by using their official powers.
Bob Mirch is the head of Public Works which oversees the code enforcement. Code enforcement came the next day and shut the building down even though they had approved the building’s opening the day before. It’s no coincidence.
Sanctuary co-founder Steve Pierce added:
There is a climate of fear in the city.
For his part, Mirch said:
This is nonsense. And a publicity stunt. At no time was the sanctuary closed. The two situations are not connected. Not connected.
Capital News 9 has a video report.