Rooftop Terrace at SFAI - Chestnut Campus
October 9th, 2020 at 3pm

The Unveiling Ceremony of the Leonard Peltier statue will be available to see via LIVE stream starting at 3pm on Friday October 9th 2020. The stream is presented as a 360-degree video, allowing viewers to experience the ceremony as if they were standing beneath the statue. For the best experience, visit this site on your mobile phone and launch the stream in the YouTube app.

View the Ceremony on YouTube


The statue has traveled around the United States and has, at times, met with an animosity all too familiar to Indigenous activists the world over. At the Katzen Art Center at the American University in Washington DC in 2016, it was censored and taken down after complaints from the president of the FBI Agents Association and subsequently disappeared for nearly a year until the artist was able to recover it. It was then exhibited at the Main Museum in downtown Los Angeles and greeted with an outpouring of community support.

The detachable feet of the statue have travelled Indian Country to many protest and ceremony sites including Standing Rock, Alcatraz Island, and Crow Dog's Paradise. On these journeys, Rigo 23 and collaborators invite people to stand on the feet to show their solidarity for Peltier. Hundreds have, including well-known activists like Angela Davis.

“It is a counter presence to the invisibility of Indigenous People in the USA and the continuous abuse they endure enshrined in the 'Cigar Store Chief' statues which can be found chained to cigar and liquor storefronts in most American cities still today,” says Rigo 23

Explore the statue

The installation of the work at SFAI places the statue in dialogue with the Indigenous Peoples Day Sunrise Ceremonies that have taken place on Alcatraz annually October 12 and November 26 since 1975 to honor the Indigenous Peoples of America, promote their rights, and to commemorate the Native activists who occupied the island in protest in 1969. This year’s October 12th gathering will not take place as a public event. There will instead be a broadcast from 6-8am on KPFA. Details are TBD for November 26.

Use your finger or your mouse to pan around the 360 degree image below.


By Rigo 23
On view October 9, 2020—February 26, 2020

In political movements, human rights activism, and the work of racial justice, the time for action is always now—a now that is ongoing, persistent, and has been at the heartbeat of humanity throughout our history and into the present day. Our collective opinion about when urgency exists has had an ebb and flow that is synchronous with the perceived safety and prosperity of America’s most comfortable citizens. At the same time, the feeling of urgency, the feeling of now, is unwaveringly present in our Indigenous communities. We say our because, while San Francisco Art Institute contends with its own history and occupation of the Ohlone land upon which it is built, we share a collective humanity for which we are all responsible and accountable to each other. We are called to stand, speak, act, and learn in solidarity with Indigenous peoples. In this presentation, SFAI is both honored and grateful to the artist Rigo 23; to the family of Leonard Peltier, including Kathy D. Peltier (daughter), Chauncey Peltier (son), and Anne Begay (AIM activist and mother of Kathy); and to the Ohlone People upon whose land we are exhibiting the Leonard Peltier Statue and accompanying photographs of the extended family and those in support of Leonard’s release.

The statue created by Rigo 23 is made in both the image and embodied experience of Leonard Peltier’s life. Leonard’s own artistic expression and self-perception is the originating spirit of the work. Pictured sitting in a stance of both endurance and contemplation, the statue is based on a self portrait he painted during his incarceration. Standing twelve feet tall and with a base of six feet by nine feet, the statue’s dimensions ask the audience to imagine the physical confines of a standard prison cell—while Leonard himself is expansive, this is a monument to the space in which he has been living since 1977. The feet of the statue have walked across the United States, traveling separately from the statue to locations such as Alcatraz Island, Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, and to the homes and spaces of those who are connected to Leonard’s journey. The hundreds of people who have stood on the feet of the statue imbue it with a resilient spirit and with a simple demand: Free Leonard Peltier.

In this monumental intervention by Rigo 23, the picturesque horizon of the San Francisco Bay is interrupted by the painted redwood form, reclaiming the caricature of wooden cigar store Indians and representing Peltier as he sees himself, and furthermore, as he wants us to see him. The scale of the statue makes clear the power of Indigenious self-determination and in contrast, the historic erasure of Indigenious presence from our perception of the Bay. The brightly painted clothing, redwood wrinkles, and the lovingly adorned beaded jewelry that hangs from his neck is undeniably beautiful, only amplifying the breathtaking view one observes from the secluded rooftop of the austere concrete building. Both Rigo 23 and Leonard Peliter remind us of what we are missing when we deny ourselves the full story and the future we can achieve when unhindered by the confining frameworks of racism.

Leonard Peltier’s incarceration has served as a timekeeper for the durability of unchecked colonial power. This is a man whose life has been sacrificed to a country unable to reckon with its own racism, both past and present. It is a sentence that ends not with a period but an ellipsis, a historical binary of “Cowboy and Indian” that does not end with Peltier’s service. We do not forget that Leonard Peliter is first a person and then his story, and when gazing upon the statue seated on the rooftop of SFAI to look down upon the Indiegenous land of Alcatraz, we are gifted the grounding power of the neverending now.

As SFAI reflects on its own history, and with much work still to do, there is solace in knowing that the timeliness of growth never expires. The statue of Leonard Peliter will be on site through the 150th anniversary of SFAI, and invites us to recommit ourselves to the life-long vocations of learning, listening, and contemplation that are central to our work as artists, thinkers, and witnesses to the human experience.

@sfaiofficial @rigo23studio @peltierstatue #freeleonardpeltier

The Leonard Peltier Statue and In Solidarity with Leonard Peltier was organized by San Francisco Art Institute and curated by  Kat Trataris, Director of Programs and Partnerships. Special thanks to Rigo 23, Maureen Moore, Kathy D. Peltier, Chauncey Peltier, Anne Begay, Vice President of Operations and Facilities Heather Hickman Holland, Chief Preparator Robin Beard, Director of Operations and Facilities John Seden, Operations and Facilities Manager Rene Lopez, Technical Director Christopher Paddock, Photography Studio Manager Alex Peterson, Development Officer Elisa Isaacson, Library Access Services and Visual Resources Manager Becky Alexander, Aaron Clement, and Christian Haas.

SFAI is thankful for the many generous supporters who make our programs possible. Our Exhibitions and Public Programs are sponsored in part by grants from the Harker Fund of The San Francisco Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, Grants for the Arts, the Koret Foundation, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and additional support from our technology partner Matterport.

ABOUT Rigo 23

Rigo 23 is a Portuguese-born American artist and has exhibited his work internationally for over 20 years, placing murals, paintings, sculptures, and tile work in public situations where viewers are encouraged to examine their relationship to their community, their role as unwitting advocates of public policy or their place on a planet occupied by many other living things. Rigo’s works live both as artworks and as thoughtful public interventions.


Leonard Peltier (born September 12, 1944) is an indigenous rights activist who was convicted of murdering two FBI agents in a June 26, 1975, shooting on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Peltier is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa, who is also of Lakota and Dakota descent. He is a member of the American Indian Movement (AIM). In 1977, he was convicted and sentenced to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment for first-degree murder in the shooting of two Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents during a 1975 shootout on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Peltier's indictment and conviction have been the subject of much controversy; Amnesty International placed his case under the "Unfair Trials" category of its Annual Report: USA 2010. In his 1999 memoir, Peltier admitted to involvement in the shootout but denied killing the FBI agents.

Peltier's conviction sparked great controversy and has drawn criticism from a number of sources. Numerous appeals have been filed on his behalf; none of the resulting rulings has been made in his favor. Peltier is considered by the AIM to be a political prisoner and has received support from individuals and groups including Nelson Mandela, Rigoberta Menchú, Soviet Peace Committee, Amnesty International, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, Tenzin Gyatso (the 14th Dalai Lama), Mikhail Gorbachev, Zack de la Rocha, Rage Against the Machine, the European Parliament, the Belgian Parliament, the Italian Parliament, the Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Rev. Jesse Jackson. [source]


Founded in 1871 by artists and community leaders with a cultural vision for the West, the San Francisco Art Institute—first as a cultural center and then a fine arts college—has produced generations of creative leaders who have challenged convention and shaped the cultural life of the Bay Area, the United States, and the world. Artists at SFAI have spearheaded art movements including fine art photography, the Beat movement, Abstract Expressionism, Bay Area Figuration, Funk art, avant-garde film, Conceptualism, and video and performance art, and they continue to help define contemporary art and the role of artists in today’s global society. Notable faculty and alumni—both art world-celebrated and less widely known—include Ansel Adams, Aziz + Cucher, Bill Berkson, Kathryn Bigelow Elmer Bischoff, Stan Brakhage, Iona Rozeal Brown, Joan Brown, Nao Bustamante, Enrique Chagoya, Linda Connor, Dewey Crumpler, Imogen Cunningham, Angela Davis, Jay DeFeo, Richard Diebenkorn, Kota Ezawa, Karen Finley, Maria Elena González, Doug Hall, Ed Hardy, Mike Henderson, Harlan Jackson, David Johnson, Sargent Johnson, Toba Khedoori, Paul Kos, George Kuchar, Tony Labat, Annie Leibovitz, Shaun Leonardo, Sharon Lockhart, Cristóbal Martínez, Una McCann, Alicia McCarthy, Barry McGee, Manuel Neri, Ruby Neri, Catherine Opie, David Park, Rigo 23, Mark Rothko, Katrín Sigurdardóttir, Clyfford Still, Larry Sultan, Carlos Villa, Kehinde Wiley, William T. Wiley, and Pamela Z.

Today, approaching its 150th anniversary, SFAI engages a local, national and international community through its public galleries; lectures and symposia; library and archives; public education classes; youth programs in underserved communities; and space-sharing and partnerships with other institutions, in addition to degree-granting programs.