Artists Display 20,000 Poppies Outside NY Stock Exchange

As workers and tourists traversed the cobblestone streets of Lower Manhattan today, December 15, about 20,000 red paper poppies rested in front of the New York Stock Exchange, each flower commemorating the life of a Palestinian person killed by Israeli forces since October 7.

Around 30 artists and activists assembled to create the installation around 9am, some folding pieces of paper, others holding banners that read “stop funding genocide,” and a few distributing flyers to passersby. A police car was stationed nearby, but the activists were able to move forward with the action without interruption, leaving the area around noon.

The unaffiliated activist collective started making the poppies around Thanksgiving, when the Palestinian death toll was around 13,000. As the number climbed, the group made additional poppies out of tissue paper, felt, and tablecloth fabric, which they finished by twisting, taping, or tying with string.

Activists placed a keffiyeh on “Fearless Girl” (2017). (photo Elaine Velie/Hyperallergic)

Abbie Goldberg, a Crown Heights-based 29-year-old artist who works in puppetry, drag, and theater, told Hyperallergic that the flowers reference Félix González-Torres’s 1991 artwork “Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.),” an installation comprising 175 pounds (the average adult male body weight) of wrapped candy that viewers are encouraged to take a piece from. That year, González-Torres’s partner Ross Laycock died of complications due to AIDS.

“It’s celebrating the sweetness of his life and also the complicity in his death, which is the same idea we had behind the poppies — continuing to make them and inviting others to make them as a way to be a part of this growing pile, honoring [Palestinian] lives,” Goldberg said. “But also, as US citizens, we are complicit in their death. The stock exchange, especially, is complicit in this destruction.”

Goldberg noted the statistics on the flyers: Defense contractors Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, and Lockheed Martin have seen their stock prices surge since the October 7 Hamas attack that killed 1,200 Israeli civilians and combatants. At the bottom of the sheets of paper, four questions asked the reader to consider their role in the ongoing violence, an idea Goldberg said is based on AIDS activist organization Gran Fury’s similar strategies.

Artists and activists in front of the Stock Exchange (photo by Patrick Nevada)

Ariel Friedlander, a 26-year-old artist and arts educator who is a member of Jewish Voice for Peace and ACT UP, elaborated on the commonalities between today’s installation and González-Torres’s 1991 interactive artwork.

“A public display of these handmade paper poppies is meant to recall that feeling of loss,” Friedlander in reference to the death of the artist’s partner. “And of another government-sanctioned tragedy.”

The activists intermittently read poems about Palestine by authors including Noor Hindi and Refaat Alareer, who was killed last week in an Israeli airstrike. Ali, 30, and Carla, 28, a married couple from Savannah, Georgia, who preferred to use their first names, stopped to create a few flowers on their way to catch the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. They said they are heavily involved in pro-Palestine organizing in their home city.

“It’s hard to see that you’re not able to do anything, but at least I’m able to support people doing something,” Ali said.

Ariel Friedlander reads Noor Hindi’s poem “Fuck Your Lecture on Craft, My People Are Dying” (photo by Hannah La Follette Ryan)

Rachel Goldberg (Abbie Goldberg’s sibling), a 26-year-old artist in Crown Heights who is a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, described how they think artists can help continue to cultivate awareness.

“In a way, activism is a performance, and we need to be constantly making that performance very interesting in order to engage others,” Goldberg said. “Maybe they haven’t seen something exactly like this before,” Goldberg said. “And it starts those conversations.”

While a few pedestrians stomped through the flowers and yelled dismissive comments at the activists, most accepted the flyers, many stopping to look at the poppies below the twinkling Christmas decorations on the New York Stock Exchange.

“I see Jewish safety and Jewish liberation inextricably bound up in Palestinian liberation and freedom,” Abbie Goldberg told Hyperallergic. “Our struggles are bound up together, and we need to really show up.”

Eva Sturm-Gross’s artworks, distributed throughout the installation, read “Cease to do evil” in Hebrew, a quote from the Book of Isiah. (photo Elaine Velie/Hyperallergic)
Twisting the paper poppies (photo by Hannah La Follette Ryan)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *