Larger Type
Smaller Type

Search Collections

Protect and Serve

1994 Nicholas Herrera Born: El Rito, New Mexico 1964 painted wood, metal, hair, plastic 13 3/4 x 38 3/4 x 16 3/8 in. (34.9 x 98.4 x 41.6 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Chuck and Jan Rosenak and museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment 1997.124.65 Not currently on view

Hear more about
Protect and Serve

Luce Center Label

Nicholas Herrera had many run-ins with authority while growing up in El Rito, New Mexico, and policemen often appear in his sculptures. In Protect and Serve the figure of Jesus is being driven away by two officers. The quote "Forgive them Lord, they know not what they do, man" suggests that the sculpture is a contemporary take on Christ's capture by Pontius Pilate's guards. From the other side, the signs say "Welcome to the Land of Enchantment," which is New Mexico's slogan, and "Gringo Hills 30 miles," which implies a wealthy, white district. Herrera makes a connection between the crucifixion of Christ and the persecution of minorities in America, particularly by the police. The title Protect and Serve is an ironic take on the well-known police motto, suggesting that some people need protection from the police. It may also refer to the painting of a saint on the underside of the car's roof, which evokes the idea of a guardian angel.


Architecture - vehicle - automobile

Figure group - male

Object - other - sign

Occupation - service - policeman


folk art

animal parts - hair