Kapiti Coast Councillor K Gurunathan has leapt headfirst into the anti-abortion storm swirling around the ‘Nurturing Hands’ sculpture outside the Paraparaumu Police Station.
He’s taking a purportedly neutral pro-public art attitude – but in fact one that will probably favour the anti-abortion group Voice For Life – the cause of the present ruckus.
The event coincided with White Ribbon Week and Voice For Life president Brian Whitaker says it was a challenge to society on its selective concern about violence. The anti-abolition activist group promotes itself as a pro-life movement.
Sculptor and commissioning group upset
Interestingly, the sculptor, Bodhi Vincent, and the commissioning group, Voices Against Violence, are both aghast at the one-day takeover of the sculpture by the anti-abortion group.
But Cr Gurunathan takes a different view. Here’s his specially commissioned article:By K Gurunathan (Guru)
Can public art only have one social interpretation? When does a liberal become a fascist? These, I think, are some of the fascinating issues raised by what appears to be a tussle over the meaning of a sculpture erected outside the Kapiti Police Station.
The sculpture titled ‘Nurturing Hands’ was created by Bodhi Vincent and commissioned by Kapiti Voices Against Violence (VAV). It was funded by the Ministry of Social Development. The sculpture depicts a hand holding a baby.
The abortion issue is an emotive and explosive one. Politicians, in particular, try never to go near it.
It’s understandable, therefore, that Voices Against Violence were horrified and, maybe, even incensed that ‘their sculpture’ was being hijacked. The group has done sterling work raising community awareness about violence against women and children.
They have publicly stated that it was inappropriate for Voice For Life to adopt the sculpture.
Voices Against Violence was quoted in the Kapiti Observer saying that while it was OK for people to interpret the work of art …’it’s not something that’s available to take as a symbol’.
Artist Bodhi Vincent was quoted saying that the anti-abortion group did not commission the work so it was inappropriate for them to use it for a different purpose.
There are two dimensions at work. Firstly, is this sculpture, erected in a public place, a piece of public art? Secondly, is abortion a form of violence as claimed by Voice For Life?
My concern is with the issue of public art and the limited understanding of it by both Voices Against Violence and Bodhi Vincent.
Once you erect a piece of art, in this case a sculpture, in a public place, it becomes public art. It immediately gains a life of its own.
At times, the various public interpretations go beyond the intentions of the sponsors, funders and even the artist. This is the nature of the beast called public art and, often, this is what makes public art contentious.
Mr Whitaker has accused those who object to other groups adopting and using the sculpture as a symbol for their own interpretation, as displaying a fascist attitude. This is an interesting challenge to the liberal minds behind the Voices Against Violence.
‘There cannot be an intellectual property right’
The baby-in-the-hand image is an old and well used image and one that appeals to many. Therefore, there cannot be an intellectual property right claim over it.
It should be no surprise the pro-life movement also see the image as one that affirms the value of life. They have used that baby-in-the-hand image in their own campaigns. In this sense both the groups share a common sentiment about the value of life.
What the issue has exposed is that Kapiti as a community has not had a decent debate about public art.
The doyens of culture, who have extolled the virtues of Kapiti as a creative community, have been sitting on their hands.
Kapiti Coast District Council, which has signaled the need of an arts policy and public arts policy for the last 10 years, has still done little about it.
It’s time there was such debate and it could be a good idea for the liberal voices which back Voices Against Violence to state their views of public art and the freedom of expression.