Nude statue stirs Jamaican art debate

By Horace Helps

Kingston, Jamaica - A sculpture meant to celebrate emancipation has sparked heated debate in Jamaica's capital over its frank portrayal of a naked male slave.

Named Redemption Song after the song by Jamaican reggae legend Bob Marley, the 3,3m bronze statue was placed at the new Emancipation Park on August 1, when Jamaicans mark the anniversary of the end of slavery in the former British colony in 1838.

The work portrays a man and woman, nude, with hands by their sides and heads lifted in a seeming prayer of thanks to God that slavery has ended.

Some Jamaicans have objected to the nudity, particularly to the male statue, saying its penis is too large.

"There seems to be an interest by the sculptor to present the penis as the main attraction, when in fact there could have been other things highlighted," complained resident Jenny Francis. "There should have been some clothes put on, it's not all about nudity," she said.

The statue was commissioned by the state-run National Housing Trust and created by sculptor Lorna Facey Cooper at a cost of $800 000.

Thousands of people drive past the bronze figures or queue every day to get a closer look, take photographs or shoot videos. Many admire the sculpture.

Cooper said her work extols emancipation. "My piece is not about ropes, chains or torture. I have gone beyond that. I want healing," she said.

But the statue has provoked heated arguments on radio talk shows and among newspaper columnists and letter writers over whether it is a celebration of the defiant spirit that ended slavery, or a vulgar affront to the innocence of young children visiting the park.

One critical newspaper columnist even urged a referendum on the future of the statue.

"There is nothing wrong with the statue. We Jamaicans are just so hypocritical. Some of us go almost nude when Carnival time comes around," said one resident, Adrienne Thomas, who has two children.

"We do so many vulgar things, yet no one says anything about it. Now we are looking at a statue and focusing so much on a penis. It's so sad."


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