Statues must resemble the subject they depict

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

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Jamaicans who are clamouring for statues of their heroes or favourite personalities to resemble the subjects they depict, are not being unsophisticated, as some people would have us think.

Neither should they be portrayed as lacking a taste for art because they prefer to see likeness over the subjective artistic interpretation of the subject by the sculptor.

A statue of someone loses its message and symbolism if people cannot identify it for whom or what it represents. The honour that was meant to be done would have been defeated if after a few years the statue looks like just another John Doe.

Over the years, there have been several controversies over statues commissioned by the Jamaican Government but with which the general populace could find no affinity, because they believe that the depiction was not representative of the personality.

Readers will recall the intense debates over the first and second statue of freed black slaves that were to be represented as the emancipation symbol and placed at the main entrance to the Emancipation Park in New Kingston.

The first statue had to be dispensed with because it was generally felt that the slight figures did not show the strength and robust attributes of the typical African man and woman. Such was the outrage that it was clear that statue could not stand.

The second debate was of a different kind. This time, it was over the nudity of the Laura Facey work. No one questioned that it physically represented the black man and woman, hence it was able to eventually be accepted. Scores of Jamaicans still see a visit to Emancipation Park as a must to see the statue.

The first statue of Robert Nesta 'Bob' Marley also had to be discarded because it came nowhere close to resembling the Rastaman who became the Third World's first megastar through reggae music. The artistic interpretation was deep, but the physical resemblance was lost.

The second one is now to be seen near Independence Park just outside the gates of the National Stadium and Arena complex on Arthur Wint Drive in Kingston. No one questions its value and it too has been attracting visitors, including Jamaican nationals living overseas.

Of course, the latest controversy is over the statue of National Hero Marcus Mosiah Garvey and the one proposed for sporting legend Mr Usain St Leo Bolt, the world's fastest man.

Again, the people are saying that the statue of Garvey looks “wishy-washy” and not anything like the picture they grew up seeing a man with girth and looking well fed, strong and vibrant. In the case of Mr Bolt, there are sounds that the statue looks “too old” to represent a man just barely in his thirties.

Interestingly, there had also been debate about the statue of National Hero Paul Bogle which stands at the Morant Bay courthouse. That is based on the belief of some historians who do not think it is an accurate representation of the Baptist deacon from St Thomas.

It is also noteworthy that many people seem to accept the representation of National Hero Nanny of the Maroons, while believing that it may not be accurate, because there were no photographic image of her on which to base an artistic representation.

We do need to remember that art imitates reality and not the other way round.




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