In defense of the supposedly offensive

Top: Micehlangelo's fresco of God and Adam from the Sistine Chapel. Left: Image of Christ child suckling on the breast of his mother. Right: The Hopi flute player statue at the center of controversy at the Edge of the Cedars State Park Museu.

Top: Micehlangelo's fresco of God and Adam from the Sistine Chapel. Left: Image of Christ child suckling on the breast of his mother. Right: The Hopi flute player statue at the center of controversy at the Edge of the Cedars State Park Museu.

I happened to be glancing through the newspaper the other day and read an article about what seems to be causing quite a hullabaloo in Blanding, Utah. Apparently, a statue of a Hopi flute player displayed at the Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum's sculpture garden was considered offensive by a small group of community members enough to where Museum officials elected to move the statue to another location. The purported "offense" was that the statue was a bit TOO anatomically correct, clearly displaying a phallus.

The sculpture, which has been on display since 1989, is a representation of ancestral Pueblo rock art imagery by Bluff, Utah artist Joe Pachek. It is very similar to, and often confused with the popular kokopelli figure that is widely depicted in a variety of Southwestern art.

What irked me about this article was that one of the offended - a gentleman by the name of Harold Lyman - stated that he wanted the statue moved because he objected to the phallic symbol, which he further pointed out isn't always depicted on rock art and therefore isn't an essential part of the image.

If that is in fact the case, then maybe he should do some research on a lot of other art forms, including some of the most famous nude paintings found all over the world and determine what is not "essential" for those images. Maybe he should go to the Sistine Chapel and complain to the Pope and have him paint over Michelangelo's fresco of God giving life to Adam because Adam clearly shows a more detailed male phallus that could be seen as a "non-essential" part of the image and potentially "offensive" according to his standards.

The fact is that what Mr. Lyman and his group are doing is effectively attempting to censor a part of Native American culture that should instead be seen as an educational opportunity. It is, after all within human nature to be curious about why certain things are the way they are. Is the fact that a phallic symbol is used on the statue any more or less offensive than a stained glass representation of the baby Jesus suckling on his mother's naked breast (see image)?

If Mr. Lyman had done his research, he would know that the Hopi flute player differs drastically from other rock art symbols he may have seen. The flute player icon is a visual representation of the Hopi Fluteplayer Clan. When seen in the form of rock art, it is interpreted to mean that members of the Fluteplayer Clan passed through the area, akin to the "Kilroy was here" graffiti symbol used by U.S. military serviceman stationed in foreign countries during WWII. The use of the phallus is merely to symbolize fertility and the "seeds of human reproduction" and has no tangible sexual connotation, much like The Vagina Monologues have come to represent a movement to stop violence against women rather than a "celebration of the female vagina."

The kokopelli is in fact drastically different than the Hopi flute player. The male kokopelli and the female kokopelmana are actually Hopi kachinas (masked deities) that are used to educate people about socially acceptable - and unacceptable - behavior. They can often be seen pantomiming lewd behavior during social dances and certain ceremonies.

With support from another group fighting to leave the sculpture in place, Museum director Teri Paul summed up the debate by saying, "It is not unusual for a contemporary culture to put its own interpretations on the symbols of people who lived long ago." Bluff resident Susan Dexter added, "Give me a break. It's not like a massive erection ..."

In the end though, what bothers me the most about this "controversy" is that if this statue and its accompanying phallus has openly been on display since 1989, then why did this small group of offended people wait 19 years to complain about it?

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