By Victoria Merlino
A free speech advocacy organization is urging the Queens Library to resume a canceled art exhibition after the library expressed its discomfort over displaying photos of people who were photographed without consent.
The National Coalition Against Censorship released a letter accusing the Queens Library of violating artist Drew Kerr’s First Amendment rights by canceling his exhibition “Faces of the 7 Train.” Consisting of 32 black-and-white photos, the exhibition featured the faces of No. 7 train commuters across a span of six years. Library officials, claimed the coalition, were concerned that the exhibition would leave unsuspecting riders open to identification by law enforcement and agencies like the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The exhibition was supposed to run from Dec. 14 to Jan. 3 at the Queens Library’s Flushing branch.
“Several court rulings uphold that art photographers’ right to free expression includes the right to take surreptitious images for artistic purposes whenever the subjects are visible in a public space,” wrote the coalition in its letter.
“While we appreciate the effort of the General Deputy Counsel to protect all Queens residents, including undocumented immigrants, it is confounding how anonymous portraits of 7 train commuters, taken over a long period of time, could put them at risk,” it continued.
The coalition recommended that the library reschedule the exhibition within the first three months of 2019.
“We are reviewing the letter and plan to respond soon,” a spokeswoman for the Queens Library told the Eagle via email.