The Michigan couple arrested at the U.S. Capitol last week after strapping objects to their bodies with duct tape say they were engaged in performance art and never expected that their actions would be seen as dangerous.
"We like to make things beautiful, to uplift, to make people happy. We never meant any harm to anyone," said Reena Patel, who had put small sculptures in the duct tape that was wrapped around her waist. "Wrapping is a big part of our art. Like we wrap ourselves in clothes and cars, the art is wrapped in different things."
On March 6, Patel, 22, and Olabayo Olaniyi, 32, were chanting and dancing inside the Capitol when police noticed their strange costumes, handcuffed them and evacuated parts of the building, thinking that they might be strapped with suicide bombs. Olaniyi had covered most of his face with a ceramic mask.
Although the objects under the duct tape turned out to be harmless, Olaniyi and Patel have been charged with interstate transportation of an explosive device, a charge that can be used in a hoax. They spent five days in the D.C. jail and were freed on Tuesday pending their trial, which has not been scheduled.
In an interview after their release, Olaniyi and Patel said they travel around the country in a van, selling their art -- which includes sculpture, drawings and bead mosaics -- and staging impromptu performances that are meant to be thought-provoking.
Olaniyi said he was not trying to look like a terrorist when he wrapped a book, a few empty glass jars and wads of newspaper in duct tape, then strapped the items to his body like a vest.
"It was my Washington suit," he said. "In Florida, I made a palm tree suit. Here, I come to Washington and everybody is talking about duct tape, and I read in the newspaper that people are buying duct tape, so I decided to make a Washington suit out of duct tape.
"Duct tape is a hot item in D.C. I wanted my art to reflect what was hot here."
Police initially said that one of the glass jars strapped to Olaniyi's body contained a clear liquid. But he said all the jars were empty, and authorities yesterday acknowledged that the first report was erroneous.
Olaniyi was artist-in-residence last year at the University of Michigan's School of Art and Design. He is a dancer, a drummer and a visual artist. He has degrees from the College of Santa Fe and the University of Iowa and has received numerous grants and fellowships, according to biographical material supplied by his attorney. His parents are well-known artists in his native Nigeria. Patel, who graduated from Michigan's School of Art and Design last year, is a visual artist and performance artist.
Olaniyi and Patel said police took their wallets, identification, credit cards and cell phone as evidence. When a reporter met them for the interview, they were asking passersby on a downtown Washington street if they could borrow a cell phone to call their lawyers.
Slumped in the back of his GMC Explorer van, Olaniyi played with a sculpture he had made out of jail yard weeds, rope that had held up his pants and his inmate ID bracelet. Then he began to cry.
"I've never been arrested. What the police saw was a black man with a mask and duct tape and their interpretation was fear," he sobbed. "It was meant to be metaphorical."