The Infamous NSA Smiley Face Diagram Is Hanging In A New York Art Gallery

It was a rare and unnerving look at how the NSA really felt about spying on Americans: a smiley face drawn next to a plan to circumvent encryption in Google’s cloud.

Now this infamous leak from Edward Snowden has been memorialised with a painting by Jenny Holzer. It appears alongside works based on redacted documents from the War on Terror in an exhibition called “Dust Paintings” at Cheim & Read gallery in New York City through Oct. 25.

Holzer traced the original image and repainted a larger version, altering it by making the making the yellow background of the original brighter and adding a purple colour.

The 64-year-old artist is known for conceptual works that push the boundaries of what art is. Her work often seems political, though she is cagey about its meaning.

“I picked the doodle because it is friendly looking and sinister. I’ve wondered if Snowden is a hero or traitor or both. I wonder what I should know and what to do with that information. I don’t like to think that most everything about you and yours is out now,” Holzer told Business Insider.

Jenny holzer doodle smiley face© Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York.‘Doodle’ by Jenny Holzer; oil on linen; 22 x 36 x 1 1/2 inches.

Holzer explained the artistic choices in this work: “I used a bright Post-it yellow for the background of the painting to be faithful to the original. I put purple in the doodle so the colours would bounce between lively and painful.”

She also noted how it relates to earlier work: “The doodle recalls my ’70s diagrams. I re-drew hundreds of diagrams to see how image and text convey information. I favoured text for years but I’m back with pictures sometimes.”

Here are some other works from “Dust Paintings”:

View more works from “Dust Paintings” »

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