How Vladimir Putin Became a Toy in a Central Park Playground

Andrew Kelly/Reuters
Andrew Kelly/Reuters
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A vivid red sculpture of Russian president Vladimir Putin riding a miniature tank recently appeared parked in the sand at a children’s playground in New York City’s Central Park.

The sculpture is the handiwork of “street artist” James Colomina, and politically-charged red sculpture is something of a calling card for him: Over the last few years, Colomina has installed bright red sculptures of little girls wearing gas masks, hooded Klan members, and children holding semi-automatic rifles in places as far-flung as Barcelona, Switzerland, and Disneyland Paris.

The sculpture is intended to denounce “the absurdity of war and at highlighting children’s courage when faced with violent, catastrophic situations triggered by others,” Colomina wrote on Instagram in claiming authorship of the Putin statue, also punctuating the president’s first name with two droplets of blood emojis.

Already, kids have been photographed menacing the red Putin sculpture with squirt guns, dousing it in sand, and sticking their tiny fingers in the figure’s ears, lending a distinct playfulness to the overt condemnation of the statue’s essence.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>A child plays by a statue of Russian President Vladimir Putin riding a tank created by French artist James Colomina in Central Park in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., August 2, 2022.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Andrew Kelly/Reuters</div>

A child plays by a statue of Russian President Vladimir Putin riding a tank created by French artist James Colomina in Central Park in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., August 2, 2022.

Andrew Kelly/Reuters

There’s nothing playful about Russia’s sustained, brutal assault on Ukraine, but children can’t perceive those complexities. They can only laugh at something, or someone, that’s clearly ridiculous.

“It was the Russian invasion of Ukraine that inspired me,” Colomina told The Daily Beast. “It was a real trauma. I feared that the dictator would take out all his toys and unfortunately that’s what he did. I hope it will stop soon.”

“When you make street art, you address the greatest number,” the artist continued. “This sculpture of the dictator Vladimir on his toy tank denounces the absurdity of war and the courage of the children who are taken hostage. I am delighted that the sculpture was able to reach so many people.”

Artistic rebukes of Putin are especially fitting considering the president’s increasing disdain for cultural expression, a trait evidenced by his systemic crackdowns against the dissident punk band Pussy Riot and the sustained incarceration of artist Yulia Tsvetkova, who’s facing pornography charges in Russia for the drawings of vaginas she posted online.

In May, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Kharkiv sculptor Dmytro Iv debuted a 13-foot-tall steel sculpture of Putin with a gun in his mouth, provocatively titled Shoot Yourself. Because the installation was unauthorized, the sculpture was promptly removed by officials.

“Originally I had an idea to create something that would motivate our soldiers to keep on killing Russians,” Iv explained to CTVNews. “The sculpture speaks for itself. Putin is a war criminal and war criminals can do two things. They can either be put in prison, or shoot themselves.”

Meanwhile, in Central Park, Putin on his tiny tank is performing (at least) two functions: piercing artistic satire, and also serving as a plaything for New York City’s kids—to be covered in sand and whatever else they can dream up for him.

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