Grotesque ‘Golden Calf’ Statue Comes to Texas

2024-03-03 15:00:50

Having vandalized, toppled, and destroyed beautiful works of art from a Miguel Cervantes statue spray-painted in San Francisco in 2020 to a General Lee Monument that was taken to an undisclosed location and melted down in 2023, the woke Left is looking to replace American public art with their own version of it. Lefties are supposed to be the creative types, what were they able to come up with?

Check out the 18-foot sculpture Witness by Shahzia Sikander, which is currently on display at the University of Houston. The outsized brass Barbie-like female hangs suspended in the air, perched on a structure resembling a brass cage crinoline. The skirt is adorned with sparkly mosaics spelling the word “air” in Urdu or “Eve” in Hebrew and Arabic.

Sikander is either overthinking the symbolism or not fully thinking through it — her Barbie is footless and armless or, more precisely, has wire-like appendages in place of arms and feet. The official description of the monument notes that

arms and legs resembling intertwined roots. She is literally ungrounded, floating and resisting permanence, as she is part of a diaspora whose home is where she chooses. According to the artist, the form is self-rooted and “can carry its roots wherever it goes,” making it able to have roots across cultures, places and times.

Somehow, knowing what the artist attempts to express doesn’t help appreciating the piece. The exhibit is so odd that it’s bound to stimulate discussion, but being talked about is not a sufficient quality to be considered art. In any event, “wired monster doll” is a more straightforward description. Maybe one day, the giant can get her own horror film.

Witness is best understood as a modern-day golden calf, the idol Israelites worshiped at the foot of Mount Sinai, provoking the wrath of God. It stands in opposition to the Second Commandment “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”

Texas Right to Life called the installation a “Satanic abortion statue” because the artist felt that it somehow reflected her belief that abortion “rights” are under threat. Of course, Sikander had to somehow bring up ending babies’ lives to the floating dismembered 18-foot golden doll. The Texan writer Auguste Meyrat argued that this kind of public display exists mainly to mock Christians. It certainly is at odds with Judeo-Christian tradition.

Meyrat notes:

Although the description on the UH website claims, “The large-scale sculpture Witness (2023) is a grand allegorical female figure that allows for multiple meanings and possibilities,” the group Texas Right to Life has deemed it “satanic imagery to honor abortion and memorialize the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.” For her part, the artist Shahzia Sikander affirmed this interpretation in an official response, explaining that her work was intended to express justice for nonwhite women, protest the reversal of Roe v. Wade, and celebrate the pro-abortion Ginsburg.

Although her legs and chest are bare, Witness wears the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s trademark lace collar around her neck. At the time of the Supreme Court Justice’s passing, I wrote of the pagan cult formed around Ginsburg — a phenomenon that’s definitely not Jewish, but to which she herself didn’t object in her lifetime.

Since then, RBG merchandise was cleared from the discount shelves, but four years on, Sikander still remembers her. It’s as if the sculptor gave the most pagan treatment to the late Ginsburg to date by putting ram’s horns resembling braids on her head. According to the sculpture description, “Ram horns have significance in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as well as Central and South Asian beliefs, often associated with power and valor.” It might be so, but in the Jewish tradition, a gold-colored monumental figure with horns has negative connotations.

Meyrat picks up on Sikander’s ambition to create “anti-monuments.” He feels that she’s successful at that because the project is so ugly and offensive that it doesn’t express the values of the community where it’s displayed or bring people together.

Maybe so, but what is an anti-monument exactly? If it’s something unseemly, Marcel Duchamp already displayed a toilet — and who can compete with that? If it’s something not like a monument in its nature, why not just dig a hole in the ground? Instead, Sikander came up with a conspicuous figure, in other words, a monument — specifically a golden calf.

Why bring the golden calf to Texas? Not for some kind of transcendent experience of beauty, but as a wicked exercise of power. The socialist realism-sized gilded monstrosity is a perfect way of marking territory for the woke project. Of course Christians are incensed, they got the message. It serves earthly powers and is ungodly.

I am a big fan of modernist art and have nothing against female artists. I admire the Israeli painter Zoya Cherkassky-Nnadi, who creates primitivist paintings filled with uneasy nostalgia and heartfelt political commentary. The feelings she evokes are as tender as her lines are raw. But Cherkassky-Nnadi comes from a totally different art scene.

How it fits within the Western art heritage is not clear either. The Art bureaucracy must have been impressed with the Pakistani-American sculptor’s C.V. and liked the description of the project enough to finance it. However, the cornucopia of disjointed ideas behind the piece makes no sense, nor does it qualify for surrealist curious juxtaposition. Witness is not captivating nor emotionally compelling, only a mishmash of various woke notions.

The kind of public art we’ve been commissioning post-Black Lives Matter riots certainly isn’t in that league. The art establishment, the very people who ridicule the gold high tops Donald Trump sold at a fundraiser, are perfectly fine with shiny oversized representations of George Floyd, a career criminal who died while resisting arrest.

Contemporary public art is tacky and politicized. Our visual artists are not particularly innovative or expressive. What they are good at is serving power and using its verbal props — you want something about feminism and diaspora — they’ll come up with wire underskirts skirts and “roots” in place of feet. Arabic lettering is always a bonus. If they try harder, they’ll please their masters with concepts like “anti-monument.”

All of it is infinitely forgettable and their visual language simply doesn’t hold up. They don’t create a transcendent experience that brings us closer to the divine, only golden calves that do just the opposite.


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