“I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth. And they sort of made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community.” This is just one of over 20,000 incriminating statements made by Donald Trump included in Radio Free Brooklyn’s new installation, Wall of Lies.
Radio Free Brooklyn (RFB) is a nonprofit radio station “whose mission is to empower Brooklyn’s underserved local communities by providing active learning in media practices, and to amplify their voices through a global Internet radio platform.” The group’s Wall of Lies project was initially conceptualized in a different form. Tom Tenney, RFB’s executive director, told the Bushwick Daily that before going remote due to COVID-19, “The original idea of the project was for a radio marathon, 24/7 on-air reading of all of Trumps’ lies on Radio Free Brooklyn for a full week before the election.” A collaboration with Phil Buehler, a Bushwick-based artist, transformed that idea into the wall that exists today. This is a truly immersive project; the extreme information-overload draws passersby in, tempting them to read at least one lie in the mosaic of boxes. The statements, sourced and fact-checked by The Washington Post, are arranged like a colorful quilt, although the effect is far less comforting.
The mural has an unfortunately fitting origin story, given its subject matter. The piece was first installed on Oct. 3 in Bushwick, but was vandalized only a few days later with the phrase “Stand back and stand by,” as well as “Vote Trump or Die.” With money raised through a GoFundMe campaign, however, the mural was re-installed, this time in Soho, and doubled in size—it now measures 100 feet long.
However, the artists opted not to take the original, defaced installation down. As Buehler explained to The Village Sun, “After someone in the neighborhood covered the graffiti with spray-painted hearts and ‘Love Thy Neighbor,’ the community thought we should leave it up as a reminder of the division that all these lies have caused.”
I have not seen the Wall in person, but rather came across the project on the Instagram page @feminist. As someone who always appreciates a nice, color-coded organizational system, I was instantly drawn to the grid of boxes and electric colors. Trump’s lies are categorized into 15 categories, each with its own corresponding color: Russia, election, economy, Ukraine probe, trade, Coronavirus, immigration, jobs, foreign policy, crime, health care, environment, taxes, biographical record and miscellaneous.
The medium itself becomes part of the commentary, referencing Trump’s goal of building a wall on the Mexico-U.S. border; thus, his words are used against him in more ways than one. This is not the wall that Trump wanted, but rather the one he deserves.
What makes this piece so powerful is that it takes up real, physical space. Here, words are given the mass, presence and immediacy demanded by a wall. Trump’s words are transformed into a tangible monument representative of their breadth and looming power.
The viewer is forced to engage with the work—even if the audience is passively walking (or virtually scrolling) past it. The wall is a zone where truth prevails and lies are revealed, not through aggressive commentary, but by letting the presence and magnitude of Trump’s words speak for themselves.
The macro and micro elements of the Wall emphasize the range of Trump’s dangerous, brain-washing influence; his words perpetuate damage on a large scale, while hurting individuals on a personal level. Buehler builds on this concept, noting in his interview with the Bushwick Daily: “Seen from a distance, it looks like chaos – perhaps an apt metaphor for this presidency, but when you step closer, you can read the individual lies, which are in chronological order color-coded by categories…Then when you step back, you can recognize patterns in Trump’s lying.”
The viewer might consider how the political context has changed since it was installed, as the color coded wall was created while Trump was still president and before the results of this historic election were called. Because of this, the work is part of 2020’s election narrative. It is one of the many sources presenting facts that condemn Trump, in the hopes that people would be moved to bring their frustration to the voting booths.
Trump losing the election does not mean that the wall loses its relevance, however. Instead, a monument like this shows that words don’t just go away once they’ve been said, but rather take on a life of their own. Likewise, the damage that Trump has caused will not be erased simply because he is no longer president. Tenney and Buehler’s wall tells us that now is the time to deal with the consequences of his words and how they’ve affected our nation, a nation that has been rooted in inequality long before Trump’s presidency, which only intensified its corruption.
When I first saw the Wall, it reminded me of how maddening it was to listen to Trump’s responses in the presidential debates. His incessant self-contradictions, fabricated statements and blatant lies seemed so obvious and yet, clearly, were enough for many Americans to support him. The fact that this wall had to be created in the first place is a testament to Trump’s incessant spread of misinformation and complete disregard for the people he was supposed to be serving. Anyone who can generate enough lies to cover a 10 by 100 foot wall should not be in any position of power, let alone be president.
Looking at the Wall now, though, feels different. The bright colors, which previously seemed to highlight all of my worries and frustrations surrounding the election, are now a celebration of anyone who voted against Trump, anyone who chose to read the (literal) writing on the wall. It’s a bit surreal to think that the man who made all of these false claims lost what he valued most—a platform to shout his 20,000 lies from.