Cayman Brac-based artist Ronald “Foots” Kynes plans to file suit against the Cayman Islands government for his arrest Tuesday afternoon on suspicion of “obscene publications.”
Mr. Kynes’s latest art installation, on display on his property in Cayman Brac, has sparked debate among Brackers for its depictions of homosexuality and religious iconography. Leading up to his arrest, the artist said he was subject to repeated police visits and community harassment for the work, which he describes as supporting gay rights and the right to choose.
Mr. Kynes is on police bail until Tuesday, July 25.
“I have no idea what’s coming up, but whatever questions they ask me, they are going to get no comment. Let’s go to court if they want to prosecute me. Let’s go to court. I want a jury,” Mr. Kynes said.
In its Tuesday statement on Mr. Kynes’s arrest, the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service initially said his art was displayed on public property, but later issued a correction that the art is “on his property that is in plain view of the public.”
Mr. Kynes said police arrived at his home after 2 p.m. Tuesday and asked him to remove a series of nude sculptures, two of which feature women embracing in a sexual manner. When Mr. Kynes refused to remove the works, he was arrested.
The artist said one of the sculptures in question, “LGBT,” has been on display for two months. Over the past week, however, he said police have made daily visits to his property.
En route to the police station, Mr. Kynes, 63, said the stress sent him into convulsions, resulting from a potentially life-threatening genetic disorder, Marfan syndrome.
Due to complications from the syndrome, the artist says he only expects to live for a few more months.
Mr. Kynes refused a police offer to be transported by ambulance to a hospital. Instead, he waited with officers until the convulsions subsided and then continued to the station where he was fingerprinted and questioned.
RCIPS said Mr. Kynes was never placed in handcuffs during his arrest or while in custody.
“He did complain of some medical issues while being transported, and an ambulance was summoned and he was evaluated by medical personnel. He declined to go to the hospital,” an RCIPS spokesperson said.
Mr. Kynes, who is hard of hearing, said police would not allow him to record their interaction and did not provide him with a transcript of his questioning.
The artist declined an offer for a government-appointed attorney and said he plans to find his own legal counsel. The Cayman Islands Penal Code prohibits the distribution or public exhibition of obscene writings, drawings, paintings, emblems or “any other object tending to corrupt morals.” The court may order the destruction of the material, regardless of whether there has been a conviction.
Violation of the code can result in a $200 fine or three-month imprisonment.
The Constitution of the Cayman Islands affirms the country to be, “a God-fearing country based on traditional Christian values, tolerant of other religions and beliefs.”
Section 11 on expression states, “No person shall be hindered by government in the enjoyment of his or her freedom of expression, which includes freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference, and freedom from interference with his or her correspondence or other means of communication.”
Mr. Kynes contends his rights have been consistently violated over the years by hostile community members and law enforcement. His works have previously been the subject of public outrage, including a 10-foot sculpture called “Mephistopheles Throne” that was vandalized and destroyed in May 2015.
He said another sculpture of a pyramid, intended for his underwater “Atlantis” installment, was set on fire. Mr. Kynes said police never filed a report of his complaint from the incident.
RCIPS was not able to locate information on the complaint but invited Mr. Kynes to return to the Cayman Brac Police Station to search for the file. In correspondence with Mr. Kynes in October 2014, Chief Inspector Frank Owens said no police report of the Dec. 31, 2009 incident was available but that the fire department had determined the cause of the fire to be “unknown.”
“We are slowly losing our rights and it’s creeping in very slowly like cancer. This country is terminally ill. We are losing our rights and I will fight for mine,” Mr. Kynes said.
“The harassment, it’s terrible. They are coming at me constantly.”
He said police have ignored his complaints of harassment, including threats on social media to destroy his art and to have him castrated.
“My art has had paint thrown on it. It’s been destroyed, mashed up and set on fire,” he said.
RCIPS said a previous harassment complaint by Mr. Kynes against Dalkeith Ebanks, who has objected to his art, was directed to the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions.
Mr. Kynes’s arrest provoked concern in the islands’ art community about the implications for free expression.
Speaking as a private citizen, artist Henry Muttoo said the case warrants analysis of current laws on free expression.
“All of these things come with a great amount of responsibility, on the part of lawmakers and on the part of the artist,” he said.
“If the policy is wrong or not in the best interest of serving the country or artist, then somebody has to lobby for it to be changed.”
The National Gallery of the Cayman Islands board was reviewing the case and did not comment.