The weekend papers reported on a minor kerfuffle in Wanganui between the artist Wayne Youle and members of the local RSA. According the Herald, Derek Lessware, 71, who survived the Nazi bombing of London was outraged by Youle's "This is not a swastika nor is it a Walters" which depicts swastikas with stylised koru "bulbs" on each arm of the symbol. Mr Lessware contacted Mayor Michael Laws (who I've always thought looked like a wet cat) and urged him to remove the offending artwork from the show at the Sarjeant Gallery because:
"If there is a symbol that represents what was
wrong with the 20th century, that would be
Lessware also received support from John Campbell the national president of the RSA and the veterans' group RIMPAC.
Youle defends his work saying it was designed to highlight the way symbols are changed and twisted by different cultures. The swastika, of course, was used for hundreds of years as a symbol of good luck long before Hitler decided it would look good on his belt buckle.
I really have to throw my hands up in the air and let fly with a great big "Huh?!" The swastikas used by Youle are about as far away from Nazi swastikas as you can get. There's not a hint of the infamous red and white and they're not even tilted at an angle like the Nazi swastikas were. Yes, Mr Youle means to conjure up memories of the Nazi swastika, but even if he hadn't been as restrained and instead hung up an original 1945 Nazi flag adorned with Hitler's missing nut: so what?
Has Mr Lessware and the Jewish Council (who also threw their two cents into the brouhaha) written to Colombia Pictures to protest the use of Nazis in Hellboy? Or e-mailed Steven Speilburg to request that for the thirty-fifth anniversary of Raiders of the Lost Ark he remove all the Nazis and replace them with cell phones? A reasonable person might suggest that the use of Nazis in movies where they're depicted as B-reel baddies are infinitely more irresponsible than a poor Canterbury artist trying to point out how cultures colonise symbols.
But the reasonable person never makes for good copy. You could almost smell the drool in the ink on Sunday. The Herald's story began by stating that Laws had been asked to "tear down" the work which "glorifies Nazi Swastikas." I know that the first paragraph in a news story is supposed to act as bait for readers, but it is necessary to stoke the fire by being deceitful? Later in the story it's stated that Lessware asked for the work to be removed. There's a big difference between tearing something down and merely removing it. And nowhere in the piece does anyone suggest that the work glorifies Nazi Swastikas. Perhaps Mr Lessware did, but the only quotes you get from him are the sort of rabid verbal fist shaking that the news media love. Well done Mr David Fisher, you've got a long and successful career ahead of you; just keep sensationalizing every little thing that comes your way. If I was Mr Youle or the management of the Sarjeant Gallery I'd be rubbing my hands and mentally planning out the extensions to my house.
Like a cunning mandrill Laws has, despite being caught in the middle, come out without offending anyone. Today the Herald reported that Laws refused to remove "This is not a swastika nor is it a Walters" noting that there is no legal motivation to do so:
"Clearly the artist involved is out to shock and test
the bounds of good taste but that in itself is not
He avoids raising the ire of the arts community and, thank God, drawing this crap out till we're all sick of it, but also cosys up to Lessware and the vets going: "Yeah I know, I totally agree with you, but what can ya do?" He might alienate some artists by calling the work "childish," but I think the total population of artists on the electoral roll in Wanganui levels out at five, so I don't think he's too fussed.
Meanwhile in Europe there's been talk of banning all fascist insignia. A motion to do so was blocked two years ago by Britain and Italy, but it's being resurrected by Prince Harry's choice of fancy dress up. It was a pretty stupid thing to do. I wouldn't go to a party dressed as Hitler and I'm just some punk from the street. Have you noticed though that he's heir to the throne (if he tops William), sitting on a pile of old money (the best kind) and at a stonking party with hot chicks yet he's nonetheless dancing by himself?