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New York artist founds his own nation, runs it for a decade

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Updated: Monday, October 26, 2015, 2:14 PM

SALT LAKE TRIBUNE OUT; MAGS OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT; TV OUTMike DeBernardo/AP

Williamsburg resident Zaq Landsberg is the sole owner, leader and semi-regular resident of Zaqistan.

The real estate is dirt cheap, the space is all quiet and the hipsters haven’t discovered it yet.

One New Yorker has found the ultimate escape from life in the city: his own country.

Welcome to Zaqistan.

Local artist Zaq Landsberg has been running his “sovereign nation” in middle-of-nowhere Utah for the past decade — and is now getting sort of serious about putting it on the map.

“Zaqistan is here to stay and it will be here for a very long time,” Landsberg, the leader and lone semi-regular resident of the 4-acre plot, told the Daily News.

“I am building a country. It’s just going real slow.”

Landsberg said he only goes back to the land for a few days a year, and he spoke with The News from a decidedly less exotic locale: his Williamsburg apartment.

But Zaqistan — officially the Republic of Zaqistan — still has some signs of legitimacy. It has its own red-and-yellow flag, its own passports (with an application process — $ 40 suggested fee) and a welcome sign greeting anyone who somehow makes the trek there. It even has a national motto: “Something for nothing.”

What it doesn’t have: People. Government. Economy. Any recognition as a true nation.

The man in charge isn’t too worried about that.

“Zaqistan is some coordinates on a piece of paper, it’s a national identity, it’s a de facto sovereign nation,” Landsberg, 30, said.

“I know Zaqistan’s not on par with the United States or Russia, countries that are quote-unquote legitimate or recognized, but I want people to ask where on that spectrum it falls.”

Landsberg, who graduated from NYU in 2007, said he founded Zaqistan as an angry college student 10 years ago. Watching with horror as Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and the War on Terror dragged on, he start losing faith in our national leadership — while pondering the idea of his own.

The Zaqistan flag. Courtesy of Zaq Landsberg

The Zaqistan flag.

Enlarge A national "monument." Courtesy of Zaq Landsberg

A national “monument.”

Enlarge

Zaqistan has its own flag and a few national “monuments,” which the leader and his friends create on short trips there.

“I started it as a tongue-in-cheek thing,” he said. “Like, I’m 20 years old but I can run a country better than these clowns. How hard can it be?”

Not that hard, it turns out — if you’ve got $ 610, find a land deal on eBay and have no populace to worry about. Intrigued by an arid area about 50 miles from the nearest town, across the Salt Lake from Salt Lake City, he purchased the land in August 2005, and thus began Zaqistan. He appointed himself head of state.

Since then, the nation’s history hasn’t been too illustrious. Its own ruler said he mostly uses the country as an occasional hangout spot with friends when he wants to trade the “harshness” of New York for the harshness of the desert.

But there’s no conflicts or poverty or routine mass shootings. And the country did have one recent milestone, he said: In late September, he brought so many people with him that Zaqistan briefly hosted 13 visitors at once — an all-time population high.

“It’s an extremely remote and inhospitable place,” recalled Landsberg’s friend Michael Abouzelof, one of those 13 and a proud Zaqistan passport carrier. 

Despite living in Salt Lake City, Abouvelof said he never went anywhere near the Zaqistan borders until getting an official invite.

Zaqistan has its own passports, with an application process and $  40 suggested fee.Courtesy of Zaq Landsberg

Zaqistan has its own passports, with an application process and $ 40 suggested fee.

“There’s no reason anyone would want to be there,” he said.

“When I looked at the bushes, I just thought, wow, mad props to this guy for pulling this off.”

Landsberg, who works as a freelance artist, is hesitant to call Zaqistan an “art project,” but said it’s intended more as a creative experiment than an aspiring superpower.

“You’re familiar with Stephen Colbert’s Super PAC?” he asked, referencing the Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow group the comedian started in his satirical days.

“He didn’t just pretend to have a super PAC. He filled out the forms, raised the money. But it was still totally ridiculous. It’s that kind of idea.”

Running a country has its professional perks, too. His artist’s CV lists this singular accomplishment: “Nation Building, Consulate General of the Republic of Zaqistan.”

After its decade anniversary, Zaqistan might be heading toward a bright future. Landsberg said he’s been making a more concerted effort to build “monuments” on Zaqistan soil — small sculptures and statues and public works projects, injecting a little culture into the lifeless land. They’re fun projects for him and his friends, the ruler said, but they’re also the first steps in creating a national history.

“If I had millions of dollars for nuclear weapons, that would get me attention,” he said. “But right now I’m hustling freelance work and living in Brooklyn. I do what I can.”

jsilverstein@nydailynews.com

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Prepare yourself today for the fields of tomorrow


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