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.