Hammer time! Trump ‘Nail-a-thon’ was peaceful and cathartic

Behold! The Trump Blockhead! Pounding in the nails provides a deep feeling of relief and catharsis, says the writer, who created the public performance event. Photos by Sandra Koponen, Ruta Katinas and Laura Zaveckaite

BY SANDRA KOPONEN | O.K., Angry Buddhist, meditate on this. …

I am an artist and musician, and have been an activist since I was 18 years old. I moved to the Lower East Side in 1983 and today live in the West Village.

It wasn’t until May 3 that I saw the April 20 talking point in The Villager by Carl Rosenstein, “St. Mark’s is truly dead as Trump gets pounded,” in which Rosenstein lambastes the public participatory artwork and performance that I led last month.

Rosenstein a.k.a. The Angry Buddhist, by his own admission, approached all of us in the performance while yelling, and did not attempt to engage anyone involved in the performance in a civil discussion. Therefore, in his column, Rosenstein fails to credit me as the creator of the event or even give the title of the performance, which was “Nail-a-thon: A Public Ritual to Disempower Dump and Co.”

His column was illustrated not with my artwork but with a poster of Trump that I had never seen before. Rosenstein grossly misrepresented the spirit of the event and the participants’ behavior, made ridiculous assumptions about my political leanings, and grandiosely presumed to know how Allen Ginsberg would have reacted to the “Nail-a-thon.”

His column is filled with pejorative adjectives and similes (which will be quoted anon) and it seems he is unable to differentiate between symbolic political theater and real violence against a real person. Most troubling, Rosenstein does not seem to understand why the populace is so concerned about the Trump administration, and defends Trump by pronouncing that the president is an outsider to the “Deep State.” It is only right that I have a chance to respond here and defend my work.

Yeah, take that, Donald! A young girl takes a whack at the Trump Blockhead in Tompkins Square Park.

In light of the helplessness many have felt post-election, who hasn’t wished they could wave a magic wand and change everything? Inspired by Haitian Vodou, in which a spike driven through the likeness of a person is believed to bring his or her demise, I set about making a sculpture. I painted Trump’s face and head on a block of wood — 15 inches high and 12 inches wide — added two arms with tiny hands stretching up in the air, made a car for it with a rat sculpture as a hood ornament and a tail of rat traps holding pictures of members of Congress and the administration at the back.

Then on Saturday, April 8 (Rosenstein erroneously gave the date as Sunday), I pulled the Rat Mobile with the Trump Blockhead through the streets of the East Village with a live band in a procession. I gave a speech in Tompkins Square Park, explaining why I made the sculpture. We invited people to “Nail Trump” in a collective expression of desire to bring the Trump administration down. Almost everyone we passed on the street immediately understood our aim, and people from all walks of life were eager to hammer a nail into the Trump Blockhead. It was a cathartic and merry occasion, not the hateful, angry mob scene that Rosenstein described.

Mauling the Trump Blockhead on St. Mark’s.

Instead of asking about my motive and intention in launching the event, Rosenstein made assumptions and railed against the performance. He called it “moral vomit,” “vulgar and depraved” and “puerile.” And he called the group of accomplished musicians — some of them world-renowned — random participants and “savage East Villagers” and a “lynch mob,” and described our behavior as “gleefully sadistic.”

Most outrageously, Rosenstein likened our peaceful ritual — which was done in goodwill and with voluntary participation — to a “public stoning of a homosexual in Daesh or a lynching in Mississippi.”  This is a faulty analogy, as it was a symbolic act, not a real one, and no one got hurt in our two-hour performance. In fact, people — from the very young to old, men, women, black, white, Hispanic, gay, straight, etc. — were smiling, dancing and went away feeling empowered. The difference between a lynching and the damaging of an effigy is that the victim of a lynching is not ever socially prominent, wealthy or powerful, whereas the destruction of an effigy is only the symbolic death of a hated, awful and cruel despot or leader.

With patient encouragement from her attentive mom, a little girl slams a “spike” into the Trump Blockhead.

My Trump Blockhead represents the leader of the most powerful country with the largest military in the world. And Trump has just signed for the greatest increase to the  military budget ever. The people do not have much power compared to Trump. So, he is the ideal candidate for such a performance, especially since he is one of the least popular presidents in U.S. history, and his policies are truly harming people.

As Rosenstein was screaming at us, I yelled back at him, “This is just a block of wood! No one’s getting hurt!”

Since I am an artist, not a Vodou priestess or a witch, my spin on Vodou is that hammering a nail into the Trump Blockhead is a physical manifestation of a prayer: The penetration of the nails shall be the “death” of predatory corporate capitalism and those in power who promote policies that discriminate against people and benefit only the wealthy while harming others. It is a passionate expression of commitment to resist a government that disrespects human rights and the environment, and is dismantling democracy, and could very well annihilate life on Earth.

Artist Sandra Koponen, the creator of the Trump Blockhead, shows how it’s done.

Hammering a nail into Trump’s blockhead is cathartic: Seeing the blockhead full of nails pounded in by people of the streets of New York City is a graphic display of our collective desire for Trump, his administration, and all they represent to disappear.

One really has to wonder what knowledge Rosenstein has of political street theater and its history in the East Village and the world. I would refer him to a recent article in The New York Times, “How to Stand Up to Trump and Win,” by Nicholas Kristof, on April 13, in which he quotes from Gene Sharp, whose books helped Baltic countries free themselves from Soviet rule:

“Nothing deflates an authoritarian more than ridicule. When Serbian youths challenged the dictator Slobodan Milosevic, they put his picture on a barrel and rolled it down the street, allowing passersby to whack it with a bat.”

Certainly, if there was ever a time for provocative street theater, it’s now.

If you would like to see a nine-minute documentary of the April 8 “Nail-a-thon” and judge for yourself, here’s a link to a video by Julius Ludavicius.

A sideways shot right into the kisser — or maybe straight into the nose or an eye, why not? — was also satisfying, bigly.

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