Redemption Song: This statue is provoking lively, often humorous debate and giving Jamaicans a break from everyday talk of crime and economic woes. Photo: AP
Kingston, Jamaica - It was supposed to symbolize national unity.
Instead, the bigger-than-life statue of a nude African man and woman unveiled to commemorate the abolition of slavery has many calling for another kind of banishment.
"It's shameful!" sneered 71-year-old musician George Black, staring at the 2,4-metre ) structure put up two weeks ago in Kingston's Emancipation Park. "Even Adam and Eve had the decency to cover themselves."
Most complaints focus on the statue's nudity, particularly the male penis.
Others say the artwork by a white Jamaican fails to capture the significance of emancipation to the Caribbean country's black majority.
Called Redemption Song, after Bob Marley's famous hit, the statue is provoking lively, often humorous debate and giving Jamaicans a break from everyday talk of crime and economic woes.
Call-in radio shows are abuzz with comments and editorial writers are investing barrels of ink.
"I call this a work of con-artistry. It's out of touch with Jamaican society," said Carolyn Cooper, a professor of literature and culture at the University of the West Indies who wants the statue removed. "The only naked people we see are mad people."
Columnist Barbara Gloudon, writing in Friday's Observer newspaper, speculated that "It is the male figure which draws the hellfire. Is it really penis envy which has evoked such passion?"
Others say Jamaicans lack of cultural exposure is fueling tempers, citing the island's troubled history with art in general, and statues in particular.
Last year, officials removed another sculpture from the same spot in Emancipation Park, following an outcry that it was too sexually suggestive - and that the man's penis was too small.
"Jamaicans make too much controversy about things they don't understand," said Hopeton Dias, a 22-year-old college student who'd like the statue to stay. "You have to go underneath the veneer. I don't think we've reached that level of sophistication yet."
Still, some attribute the reaction to a rejection of the black form in a country where young women bleach their skin and beauty queens routinely are chosen from a cafe-au-lait-colored elite.
"People don't love to see the black body," said Yaonde Blair, a 21-year-old office assistant who took a peak at the statue during her lunch hour. "Our society is so Americanized that we don't want to look like ourselves, we want to look like other people."
The race issue has received particular attention because the sculptor, Laura Facey, is a white born to a Jamaican father and American mother.
She rejected criticism that her work was inappropriate and said she wouldn't change a thing.
"Artists are supposed to be forward thinking," Facey said. "This might be a little new for people, but I feel confident this is the right piece for the right time."
Columnist Lloyd Smith disagreed: "What that beautiful park needs is a symbol of inspiration, pride and hope tinged with an aspect of the past challenges that have honed us into the people that we are becoming -resilient, innovative, hospitable and assertive," he wrote in Tuesday's Observer.
The government, which reportedly paid Jamaican $5-million (R615 000) for the statue, so far has remained out of the debate. Education and Culture Minister Maxine Henry-Wilson declined to be interviewed.
Many doubt the statue can last much longer. Some youngsters already are calling the grounds "penis park," and female onlookers are verbally assailed by men in passing cars.
One elderly woman who refused to give her name stared at the statue in horror: "Look at the big, long penis," she said. "It should come down. This doesn't look good for little children."
The woman echoed calls to replace the statue with one of Louise Bennett, an 83-year-old poet and folklorist considered Jamaica's most beloved living person.
"A statue of 'Miss Lou' would be much better," she said, "as long as they keep her clothes on." -Sapa-AP http://www.itechnology.co.za/index.php?click_id=122&art_id=qw1060972740105B252&set_id=1
###Naked tribute to emancipation sparks debate on history, race and, er, length Gary Younge in Kingston
Thursday August 14, 2003
It was supposed to symbolise liberation and celestial reverence in an independent Jamaica. Two naked 7ft-high bronze figures - a male and a female - looking skywards on a dome-shaped fountain embossed with Bob Marley's lyrics "None but ourselves can free our minds".
But according to the statue's critics the artist is too light-skinned, the male figure is too generously endowed, and both are, well, too naked.
Since Redemption Song was unveiled at the entrance to Kingston's new Emancipation Park a fortnight ago it has prompted a debate that has revisited myths about the black male, scratched at sores about "shadism" and brought to the fore a prudish streak in a country more renowned for taking things easy.
Every morning the nation's airwaves and letters pages are jammed with comments that range from the puerile to the priggish and the raunchy to the racial; every evening a permanent crowd of different people gather to point, laugh and engage inbouts of public banter that mix art criticism and sex education.
An unscientific straw poll, conducted just by listening in on the conversations of onlookers for half an hour and judging by the balance of letters and phone-in callers, suggests most people like it but that a sizeable number are scandalised.
Yesterday a columnist in Jamaica's Daily Observer, Lloyd Smith, described the sculpture as "a rape of our democracy".
Another writer ridiculed Renaissance sculptors for being not generous enough. "Just because Europe's classical statues had small penises," argued Mark Wignall, another Observer columnist, "does not mean Jamaica must follow suit."
A letter to the sculptor, Laura Facey Cooper, from the director emeritus of Jamaica's national gallery praised the statue and described the controversy as "vulgar epithets spat out by an unknowing and uncaring public".
Having attracted past criticism for a near-naked and well-endowed carving of Christ, the sculptor knew Redemption Song would draw some flak but had no idea it would be so sustained.
"It has surprised me," she said. "I expected something but not this. Public art is new to Jamaica and people project their own anxieties on to it."
She laid out her symbolic intentions in a contest conducted last year by the Jamaica national heritage trust. "The water washes away the pain, angst and suffering of slavery," she wrote in her submission. "The figures rise having transcended the past, standing in strength, unity and reverence."
The greatest amount of controversy relates to the nudity. In a country that produced the bawdy gyrations of dance hall queens, such conservatism would seem out of place. But despite, or perhaps because of, this reputation for licentiousness there is a deeply prim and proper element in Jamaican society; an MP recently called for the virginity testing of schoolgirls and tabloids have problem pages entitled "Tell me pastor".
Many feel affronted by the public nudity - albeit in inanimate objects - in Redemption. "Do we wish to give foreigners who visit the park the image that we are promoting nakedness?" asked Alfred Sangster, a visitor to the park.
Others have an issue not with the figures' nakedness in general but the size of the man's penis in particular. The 49-year-old sculptor says she used models and photographs and insists "it is in proportion to the rest of the sculpture. I certainly didn't overplay it."
Cooper is unapologetic about the complaints that have come her way. "Both the male and female are very well-endowed in every possible way. It's an important part of life and it's a wonderful part of life. I'm a wife and I have kids and I enjoy that part of life."
Others have issues not with the sculpture but the sculptor. Cooper is eighth-generation Jamaican and like most Caribbean islanders is the product of some racial mixing. She looks white and claims African ancestry through her father. "At least one of my ancestors was a slave."
For some that is simply not enough. "[She] is a fine sculptress," wrote Kali Krishnadatta in a letter to the Sunday Herald. "But in the complex race-colour-class network that governs Jamaica she is neither the right race, the right colour nor the right class ... The implication is that black people in Jamaica are incapable of representing themselves."
Such criticism no longer bothers Cooper. "I know that with my privilege comes responsibility and growing up I struggled with it," she said. "But I'm comfortable with who I am. I don't even think of myself as white, I think of myself as Jamaican."
Meanwhile, the debate continues to raise a host of issues that Cooper never intended and few could have envisaged.
"See the woman standing there naked with her high breasts," one mother told her two daughters as they stood before the statue. "See the man standing opposite with his penis still flacid and they're not even touching. That is emancipation." http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,1018118,00.html