Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Statue

I do not pretend to possess the cultural sophistication necessary to appreciate modern sculpture and the bronze statue in Overland Park Arboretum in Kansas in no exception. It consists of a headless female torso taking a self-portrait with what appears to be a digital camera. The work (titled “Accept or Reject”) is one component of the outdoor China-US Sculpture display that contains eleven pieces by six Chinese artists.
The Statue
The exhibit was the brainchild of Chinese immigrant Kwan Wu who got the artists to donate the works and arranged for the Chinese government to cover part of the shipping costs. A local charity covered the installation materials and the municipality covered the labor costs. The idea of the project, according to city documents was to “give the City a distinctive, unique, enriching community asset...echo our community's international well our City's unsurpassed commitment to the arts."

The statue has its share of detractors and one of them, Joanne Hughes, started an online petition to have the status removed on the basis that it “promotes sexting amongst children and teenagers.” She also believes that the sculpture should feature a “warning of the sculpture’s offensive nature.” Her cause was recently taken up by the American Family Association who has garnered over 4,000 signatures for the cause and released a statement saying “It’s beyond comprehension why a city would put a statute that’s celebrating sexting.”

When the artist was contacted he explained that the sculpture represented that the “virtual world removes control over one's image” and “a woman who's making the conscious choice to ignore her mind, soul, and identity." Once the completed petition is turned in the city will have sixty days to convene a grand jury to investigate the matter.

I must say the public commentary section under the petition was interesting. A few highlights:

  • The unfortunately named “Efthis Koukoutsakis” ranted:“the naked should be respected amongst grown up and not children, send this stupid thing to a private collection somewehere [sic]in a porn club”
  • Meryl Dodd believes the sculpture to be a warning sign that “America is changing for the worse.”
  • Becky Trigilio said simply: “Safety of children from pedifiles [sic]”

There were also some statue supporters such as Francis T who rebuked the detractors, advocated for more statues, and implored conservative Americans to educate and “not repress your children otherwise when they begin to feel strange itching in their private parts, they will make the same mistake of Palin's daughter.”

First of all, I am strong supporter of free speech but for the love of all that is pure can we get some proper spelling & grammar? What is “the naked” and where exactly can one locate a “porn club?” “Pedifiles” not only sounds like a records-management system for a day-spa, it bookends a sentence fragment. Also, if you are looking for signs that “America is changing for the worse” and a controversial Midwestern statue is the best you can come up with you are not putting forth enough effort.

Conversely, it is just as ridiculous to suggest that the presence of the piece would help prevent teenage pregnancy by normalizing puberty. Does this person really believe that some fifteen year-old girl will be walking by on her way to her boyfriend’s house and exclaim “I forgot a contraceptive!” On a side note, while I am neither a physician nor a post-pubescent female; it might be worthwhile to expound on when it is acceptable to experience itching in one’s nether regions.

I will admit that if someone were to show me a picture of the sculpture and ask me what I though the artist was trying to convey I would never have chosen “a woman who's making the conscious choice to ignore her mind, soul, and identity” but then again he could have told me that it was a re-imagining of the women’s suffrage movement and it would have made as much sense. A more fitting title might be “Why Headless Hannah Can’t Go Back to Six Flags.”

On the other hand, I am having a tough time getting on board with a decapitated bronze statue holding a camera being a catalyst for underage sexting. First of all, it is fairly difficult to sext without an actual phone. Second of all, it seems much more likely that teenage sexting would be affected by celebrity scandals and peer-pressure that modern artwork in Kansas. I might be mistaken, but I cannot imagine some young girl who is on the fence about the morality of sexting until she walks through this park and says to herself, “If it is good enough for an inanimate object it is good enough for me.”

While the project appeared to use very little taxpayer money, I do not see any harm moving it into a public art gallery where those that wish to can continue to view it without cost. The majority of the public would probably find this acceptable and the artist’s work would not be wasted. I think both sides are distorting the issue but if it is taken down and there is a quantifiable decline in teenage sexting that corresponds to an immediate spike in teenage pregnancy I will issue an apology.    

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