Offending sculpture creates spiritual precedent

Offending sculpture... cropped so as not further offend.

A court order for the destruction of a sculpture that is spiritually and culturally offensive to Aboriginal people creates an important precedent for other people of sincere religious or cultural conviction offended by “works of art”.

A NSW court has ruled the 8.5-tonne stone sculpture of a Kimberley Aboriginal spirit figure must be pulled down. The Wandjina spirit is sacred to three Aboriginal clans in the West Kimberley and its public depiction is deeply offensive to them.

The sculpture was erected at a New Age “wellness centre” and art gallery run by  Vesna and Damir Tenodi known as ModroGorje.  The couple are devotees of Anan-Do meditation.

Traditional Aboriginal owner Gordon Smith junior travelled to Sydney for the hearing.

“I’m very happy with the ruling. It shouldn’t have happened in the first place,” he said.

Worrorra elder and lawman Donny Woolagoodja said: ”The sculpture is a caricature … and its presence mocks and denigrates the spiritual beliefs of the Worrorra people.”

Given the power imbalance between Western colonisers and Aboriginal peoples, it is good to see the courts restoring the balance by protecting sensitive cultural material.

At the same time, religious symbols and icons of many kinds are fair game for misuse by popular culture and contemporary art.

Christians have for years struggled against offensive depictions of core elements of their faith such as the crucifixion of Christ but are usually labelled enemies of freedom of expression or simply wowsers.

Of course rushing into banning or destroying works of art is rarely a constructive course and sometimes material that seems offensive, such as Piss Christ, may actually be highlighting the very issues being discussed here – the cheapening of deep spiritual beliefs.

(Mind you, even putting those two words together makes me feel uncomfortable.)

I wouldn’t be surprised if it is indigenous people in our nation who lead us into rediscovering the importance of a spiritual life. Of course, a very large number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people hold deeply spiritual, Christian faith.

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4 thoughts on “Offending sculpture creates spiritual precedent

  1. Undoubtedly the sufferings of indigenous people are not in question. Lot of white people feel so guilty that they would accept to pay for their guilty conscience, but do not see the money is being wasted on intermediates. Vesna Tenodi made an effort to look into their way of living presently, wrote a book about her effort (Dreamtime Set in Stone). She is not just a gallery owner.

    1. There is still the issue of respect and ownership. It is too easy for non-Aboriginal people to under-estimate the grief and loss of Aboriginal people and misappropriate their culture, history and art.

  2. Pingback: Stone Sculpture
  3. I agree Peter – I think there is much to be gained as a nation by getting to know the spiritual heart of our indigenous people.
    I also hope that wins like this one are evidence that the double speak and double standard of political correctness can be challenged and shifted by clarity of thought and speech and good use of legal argument.

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