Sham’s ‘Beast of Kandahar’ crashes at Chautauqua for the week



Chautauqua has a new addition — its very own crashed RQ-170 drone.

For those who have not walked past the Fowler-Kellogg Art Center in the past few days, artist James Sham has installed his life-size model drone “The Beast of Kandahar” on building’s façade. The medium, according to its description, consists of “inflatable funhouse materials, fan, rope, sweat.”

The piece was inspired by a surveillance drone downed by the Iranians on Dec. 4, 2011. Initially, reports said the drone was shot down, but later learned the drone had been hacked and brought down with minimal damage.

President Barack Obama requested Iran return it, but Iran decided to reverse engineer the drone, and eventually released photos of their own version — although whether it was functional or not was a matter of much debate.

“This [Iran drone controversy] was in the back of my mind at the same time I was listening to this story on NPR on how, because of the drone strikes in Yemen, the children … are now starting to associate blue skies with fear and terror,” Sham said in his VACI lecture on Friday.

Sham decided to replicate this experience for Americans — but in an inverse way. Rather than working with an aeronautics engineer to build a realistic model, he teamed up with Leo’s Party Rental, which makes bounce houses. They built the model using only the specifications and photos released in Iranian propaganda to create their inflatable beast in San Antonio.

The drone was originally going to be attached to a government building, but they got too many complaints from people thinking an airplane was actually crashing, so they took it down.

“That was kind of the idea behind the piece,” Sham said. “At a distance there’s this fear that you have seeing something that large looming, and then once you get to a certain distance you realize this is just an inflatable toy.”

Since the initial display in San Antonio, the drone has traveled widely.

“I’ve crashed it in quite a few places, but I think this one is my favorite so far,” Sham said of its current resting place in Chautauqua.

The drone will remain on the front of the Fowler-Kellogg Art Center through Week Five.