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Artist Plans to Destroy $45 Million Worth of Art in Protest Over Assange’s Imprisonment

An artist based in the south of France, Andrei Molodkin, has announced plans to destroy a collection of artworks valued at up to $45 million if WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange dies in prison. Molodkin’s project, dubbed “Dead Man’s Switch,” aims to draw attention to Assange’s incarceration and the perceived threats to freedom of expression. Molodkin has placed the artworks, including pieces by renowned artists like Rembrandt, Picasso, and Andy Warhol, into a secure 29-ton safe. The safe is equipped with two barrels containing corrosive substances that, when combined, will destroy the contents completely.

Jack Taylor/Getty Images
Julian Paul Assange is an Australian editor, publisher, and activist who founded WikiLeaks in 2006.  Courtesy: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Assange’s wife, Stella, has endorsed Molodkin’s project, emphasising the importance of preserving freedom of expression and information. She views the destruction of art as a powerful statement against the repression of these fundamental rights. Assange is currently detained in the U.K. pending a final appeal over his extradition to the United States. He faces charges under the Espionage Act related to WikiLeaks’ publication of classified documents.

Molodkin believes that in the current climate of repression and conflict, destroying art serves as a stark reminder of the threats to freedom. He sees Assange’s imprisonment as a symbol of the erosion of freedom of expression and seeks to raise awareness through his project. The safe will be sealed in Molodkin’s studio and monitored with a 24-hour timer. The timer must be reset daily by someone close to Assange to prevent the release of the corrosive substances. This setup ensures that the destruction of the art is contingent upon Assange’s well-being.

Giampaolo Abbondio, a Milan art gallery owner, initially hesitated but eventually donated a Picasso to the project, emphasising the value of human life over art. Other artists, such as Franko B, have also contributed works that reflect themes of freedom and censorship. The project sparks an ethical debate over whether destroying art or endangering human life is the greater taboo. Stella Assange frames it as a question of democracy and accountability, asserting that the preservation of art hinges on the protection of fundamental rights.

Andrei Molodkin’s provocative project underscores the intersection of art, politics, and human rights. As the fate of Julian Assange hangs in the balance, his imprisonment continues to galvanise activists and artists alike in the fight for freedom and transparency.

Feature image: Portrait of the artist Andrei Molodkin. Featured in The Times (UK) 2009. Courtesy: wiki

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