Like the magnetic attraction of a schoolyard melee, we are drawn inexorably to the ongoing brawl on the Brac.
We refer, of course, to the long-standing and escalating battle between artist/sculptor Ronald Kynes (better known as “Foots”) and, well, nearly everyone else, including his neighbors, preachers and pastors, politicians, and, most recently, the police who arrested Mr. Kynes last week for the “obscene publication” of his artwork.
We are certain the Compass would be forgiven if we ignored this entire matter – let it be aired and argued at local watering holes which, we would wager, is exactly what is happening. Tempers no doubt get hotter than mid-July temperatures whenever the subject is Foots and his purposely provocative creations (which some have called offensive to the Creator himself).
Perhaps it is time for some deep breaths and cooler heads, since there are actually some important principles entangled in the current kerfuffle. So let’s try to sort them out:
On the most basic level, we are witnessing a collision between artistic expression and community standards. The former is buttressed by Cayman’s Constitution, the latter by an angry, even hyperbolic, populace.
For years, this confrontation has been in the making. Remember Mr. Kynes’s 15-foot-tall “Apocalypse Now” sculpture depicting a bloody crucifix, goat’s head and numbers 666? Or his follow up, “Mephistopheles Throne,” a 10-foot sculpture depicting a demon, painted in dark red stain, holding a pitchfork and skull?
In each of those instances, residents who were offended by the works – which they considered disrespectful to the Christian community – asked police to intervene. But in both, police declined.
(However, and troublingly, police appeared to take little interest in investigating vandalism and theft of Foots’s artwork, a serious abrogation of their responsibilities).
Now the police have become active (activist?) players in this ongoing drama. Whether they fully appreciate it or not, it is extremely rare (and rightly so) for law enforcement officers to exercise arrest powers to snuff out artistic expression.
And it is their actions which elevate this matter beyond a containable community dispute to a serious constitutional and potential international incident. In law, small cases involving democratic principles have a way of evolving into outsized precedents with unforeseeable consequences, and that is the position that the Brac police have now placed the country in.
As journalists, of course, we are advocates for freedom of expression, whether the medium is print, digital, verbal, paintings, sculpture or what have you.
At the same time, we suggest there is an obligation, albeit voluntary, on the part of the writer, the speaker, or the artist to work within the social and cultural norms of their communities.
We certainly do not subscribe to the popular nostrum that it is a worthwhile objective of an artist to create primarily in order to shock – and most artists, of course, do not. But Foots does.
Should he do so? Probably not.
Does he have a right to do so? Almost certainly he does.
And should the Brac police have used their blunt arrest powers to intervene in this delicate social dilemma? We think not.