Cigar-smuggling pigeons to touch down at New York gallery

Wed Oct 23, 2013 12:09pm EDT
 
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By Luke Swiderski

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Thanks to New York City artist Duke Riley, the American surveillance apparatus faces a new airborne foe: the homing pigeon.

Riley trained pigeons to smuggle Cuban cigars from Havana, Cuba, to Key West, Florida, while other birds filmed the 100-mile (160-km) journey with custom-made cameras. The pigeons and their videos will be on display in Riley's solo show, which opens November 1 at the Magnan Metz gallery in New York.

Riley, 41, said he came up with the project at least in part to challenge the idea that the spying capabilities of the U.S. government have become all-encompassing.

He started with 50 birds - tagging half of them as smugglers and the other half as documentarians.

"A lot of the work I do seeks to create some sense of possibility or empowerment, in a humorous and romanticized way, using the simplest means possible," Riley said.

It was also Riley's way of protesting the 51-year-old U.S. embargo against Cuba. Under the 1917 Trading with the Enemy Act, the United States has enforced economic sanctions against Cuba since 1962.

More recently, Americans with permission to travel to Cuba were allowed to bring back $100 worth of goods, but the Bush administration ratcheted up sanctions in 2004, imposing a total ban.

Riley's cigar project aims for more than just subversion.   Continued...

 
Artist Duke Riley examines his pigeon Dynamite Johnny as he sets up his exhibition at the Magnan Metz Gallery in New York October 21, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid