Subversive Poster Art Appears on NYC Subways

March 10, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


If you’re a regular New York City subway rider, you’ve seen the “If you see something, say something” ads put up in many subway cars by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). Each ad show a close-up photo of an individual, identified by a first name, saying how they reported something “suspicious,” and then calls on subway riders to report to cops if they see things like “unattended packages” and “suspicious behavior.” This "see something, say something" campaign was first launched after the 9/11 attacks as part of a whole offensive by the government and various law enforcement agencies to whip up patriotic and pro-U.S. sentiments among the people. 

On Thursday morning, riders in a couple of NYC subway cars saw ads that looked like these familiar MTA “safety campaign” posters—but with a different, subversive message. In one altered ad, for example, a cop says, “It’s important to report suspicious activity. I feel weird telling people this when I know ratting out a fellow cop for unethical behavior or brutality could make my life a living hell.” Instead of the usual “Take a moment to alert a police officer or MTA employee,” the altered poster reads “Be aware of more than what’s right in front of you.” And a “#RESIST” appears next to the MTA logo.

Artist's ad displayed in NYC subway car

Subversive ad in NYC subway car

A young man in another ad says, “I knew to report the unattended bag I saw. But why wasn’t I also encouraged to speak up when I saw my government destabilizing the Middle East which led to increased terrorism in the first place?” And in another, a woman is shown saying, “I’m glad I was reminded to report that suspicious bag. But I wonder, when my own president uses a willing media to perpetuate a constant state of fear, who are the real terrorists and who profits off my panic?” This was followed by the message: “Be aware of the bigger picture and stay vigilant.”

According to the NYC online news site Gothamist, the altered posters were installed undercover on two subway cars overnight. The artist’s concept for the project was “to encourage people to say something when they see something unsettling coming out of the government.” According to the Gothamist, the artist said “the campaign was inspired by Donald Trump’s presidential win. In recent months, hate crimes have risen and women have grappled with threats to their reproductive health. Non-citizen New Yorkers are living in heightened fear of deportation.” The artist told the Gothamist, “Yes, terrorism is a real issue. But aren’t the behaviors of our government... and these ideas of how the media is straying into fake news, aren’t all of these things contributing to an atmosphere that makes us more unsafe, that gives rise to terrorism, that makes us panic?”

The artist said he wasn’t opposed to the MTA campaign. “But given the state of the world that we’re in, I wanted to say something that took that conversation and elevated it so that people could be vigilant beyond what’s directly in front of their eyes.”


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