Sierra's Word of Fire snuffed out

A few meters from the U.S./Mexico border in Ciudad Juárez, Spanish artist Santiago Sierra create a gigantic piece called Palabra de Fuego (Word of Fire) by carving 15-meter-tall letters into the earth, then filling each with concrete. "Sumision," Spanish for submission, references the sweatshop conditions many of the dwellers of Anapra zone labor under, the devastating health problems caused by nearby American-owned lead-smelting foundries, and the Cold War-style wall U.S. Homeland Security officials plan to build to control immigration. On May 24, Sierra was to complete the piece during a live webcast -- by igniting fuel poured into the concrete letterforms.

That never happened. Sierra's website says the effort was "obstructed by the local government in an action that included the use of public forces." Despite the fact Sierra obtained proper permits from the Urban Development and Ecology Secretary, local officials halted the burn, citing damage to the environment. Representatives of the project's sponsor, Proyecto Juárez, said it'd emit the same amount of fumes as two schoolbuses making a 20-kilometer drive.

Proyecto Juárez director Mariana David, also Sierra's wife, said the permit revocation amounts to censorship. "We came to Juarez to talk about power structures," she told Artnews. "And we're looking at a case of exactly what we're talking about -- an abuse of power."

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