There are two truths to be dealt with in this story, and when they run up against each other, that’s where “funny” is born:
1. The human form has been depicted, nude, since time immemorial.
2. Wingnuts see all depictions of the nude body as sexual, shameful and icky.
One of the more curious aspects of controversial — or, perhaps, just bare-breasted — art, is this: People want to view it.
Which, amid a flurry of publicity, likely accounts for an uptick in attendance this week at the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens on West 179th Street in the southern reaches of Johnson County.
One of them, titled “Accept or Reject” by artist Yu Chang, presents the disjointed body of a young, bare-breasted woman, one thin arm extended to snap a photo of herself.
The sculpture so shocked a Stilwell mother, Joanne Hughes, who came upon it with her children in tow, that since May 9 she has been leading a campaign to have it hauled off to a more “appropriate venue” where children can’t be inadvertently exposed.
Joanne saw a booby. Joanne has now forgotten about everything else on her to-do list, and is leading the Crusade Against The Booby.
Calls to Overland Park’s mayor, city manager, council members, arboretum officials and others gave her no satisfaction.
“Not one of the people I talked to saw anything inappropriate about having that in front of children,” Hughes said this week. No plans to move the sculpture; no plans even to talk about moving the sculpture.
Unappeased, Hughes has joined forces with the Kansas and Missouri chapter of the American Family Association, whose national organization is based in Tupelo, Miss. In 1990, the association successfully worked to get a grand jury impaneled to indict Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center for displaying what it considered obscene photographs by the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. A jury disagreed and acquitted the museum.
Starting Tuesday, Hughes and American Family local director Phillip Cosby plan to gather about 3,000 signatures from Overland Park residents to compel a Johnson County District Court judge to convene a grand jury to decide whether the arboretum should be indicted on obscenity charges.
People think we’re exaggerating when we talk about the fact that anti-gay, socially conservative wingnuts are motivated by severe, unreasonable shame and guilt, particularly when it comes to their own bodies. Look at that statue up there. Look at it. Is that obscene? Or is it just the female form depicted artistically?
Here’s a funny paragraph from that serious news piece:
Her fight, she said, is to protect young children such as her own, although she conceded that while on their walk in the arboretum, her daughters, ages 4 and 2, never saw the sculpture.
“I saw it first,” said Hughes, who had been walking with her husband. “They were busy looking for snails on the ground. We ushered them past. But as a mom of two girls, especially, I don’t want them to have to see something like that.”
Hughes said that from her point of view, the depiction of a girl with naked breasts snapping a photo of herself seemed to glorify “sexting,” the practice of texting sexually provocative photos.
“With the problem of youth sexting right now in our culture,” she said, “I don’t even think we need to go there.”
“I didn’t take the time to understand the artist’s message,” Hughes said.
“I was really thinking, ‘Good grief, what is that doing here?’ It is vulgar. It is provocative. I thought it was glorifying sexting. For me, it is very offensive.”
She rejects any argument that likens the arboretum sculpture to, say, naked figures from Greek or Roman antiquity or the works of Michelangelo or Rodin.
“I have seen the statue of David in person,” Hughes said of Michelangelo’s masterpiece. “It is beautiful. He’s also not taking a picture of his penis. There is a difference there. The message is different.”
Hughes said she did not find any of the other sculptures offensive, although she did not find them to be particularly uplifting.
“I had a very somber feeling when I went through,” she said. “I go to the arboretum to kind of get peace and quiet.”
As to what Hughes did enjoy: “I liked the little birdhouses,” she said.