I like The Gun Sculpture. But then, I like guns. A predilection not shared by the Chinese Government. Oh, they like military guns. Plenty. It’s civilians with guns that gets their collective dander up; as witnessed by the recent execution of a Chinese gunmaker/trader. So when the United Nations displayed artist Sandra Bromley and Wallis Kendal’s monumental “found” art work in Vienna, China couldn’t countenance the accompanying panels: photographs of over one hundred victims of violence from dozens of countries, including two images of Tibetan nuns. (Uh-oh.) So Chinese diplomats swung into action and had them removed, as edmontonjournal.com reports . . .
The artists were surprised in early July to receive an e-mail from exhibit organizers saying that the Chinese delegation wanted the entire exhibit removed. A few days later, someone removed the panels with photographs of victims of violence. It was two days before the panels turned up again and were put in storage.
“Our exhibit is diminished without the victims’ mural,” said Bromley. “No one offered to restore the panels. We don’t look at this art as a political statement,” she said, noting that many countries are represented on the panels, including Canada.
“The message is the unmasking of violence, we wanted to challenge the culture of violence and create dialogue about it,” she said.
A brief text is included with each victim photo. For the Tibetan photos, one reads, “Imprisoned and beaten in prison” and the second reads, “Locked up as a teenager because of violent political beliefs.”
On July 13, Bromley and Kendal received a letter from a UN official in Vienna expressing admiration for the art, but no promise to restore the panels to the installation. The letter acknowledged some parts of the exhibit have been removed.
“But by no means has deliberate action been taken to undermine the integrity or the value of the work,” said the letter.
A representative of the Chinese delegation in Vienna initially acknowledged the country had complained about the sculpture and later declined to comment, according to a local newspaper report.
Has the censorship awakened the artists to the possibility that they share their anti-gun ethos with the leaders of the Peoples Republic of China? A government whose total ban on civilian gun ownership underpins their totalitarian regime, stifling free speech both domestically and, in all places, Vienna?
Hint: That’s a rhetorical question.