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Practice Module on The Subjugated Elephant
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Created August 5, 2002
Latest Update: August 9, 2002
The Subjugated Elephant: No Longer Needed
Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individaul Authors, August 2002.
"Fair use" encouraged.This essay is based on an article in the Los Angeles Times article of August 9, 2002, by Johanna Neuman: Judge Says PETA May Join Party---With a Sad Elephant, at P. A 27. "Arts: Activists granted right to be part of the exhibit of animal sculptures in D.C." Backup.
Chicago was first with the cow sculptures on its city center streets. Pat and jeanne and Arnold and Susan were all there at the ASA meetings. At the end of the summer the city made a bundle auctioning the cow sculptures off. They were such a howling success, New York put them up next. And this summer, Washington, D.C. has the "public art" sculptures: appropriately, elephants and donkeys.
The dilemma revolves around who gets an elephant in the show. This always comes up. The Arts Commission decided on 10,000 elephants to be painted by invited artists, with 100 elephants and 100 donkeys to be chosen for the city's public art this summer. Now, that's an honor to be selected. These shows make money for the city, prompting sales of postcards, T-shirts, stuffed animal souvenirs, even a hard cover book in Chicago. (I know because Susan sent one to Arnold, who whined they were all sold out when the ASA got there.) And, as always, when there's an honor, someone feels slighted. This time PETA - People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sued in US District Court, arguing that their elephant, paint design by Harry Bliss of the New Yorker, was rejected because of its message that circus elephants are mistreated in the circus, where they suffer greatly. PETA was represented by the ACLU - an animal rights issue. And the Federal Court ruled in favor of animal rights, requiring the Arts Commission to paint their last elephant in accordance with the PETA design by Harry Bliss.
Such folderol over public art sculptures! Of what importance is it to the study of social justice and peace?
Well, glad that you asked. First of all, many of us concerned about human rights consider that we need to extend our concern to all living things. Respect for the earth and all that is upon and of her is an important aspect of our respect for all humans, for the "other," as well as ourselves. Respect for life, and the dignity of all things living. And such respect comes of conscious awareness of the dignity and beauty of life in all of us, in all things living.
Then, what do public art sculptures have to do with awareness of all living things? And here we come back to Maria Pia Lara's theory, that those who are subjugated (and those who share their pain and work with them to free themselves of domination) seek recognition for their pain and suffering. In this case, read the "elephants seek recognition." But elephants have no voice, at least not in our language, and so cannot tell their stories in the public sphere, so that the public will become consciously aware of their plight, and more concern be shown for their welfare. PETA helps by speaking for the elephant. And the ACLU helps by speaking the language of the law for PETA.
If the Arts Commission's appeal fails and the PETA elephant is shown in a "prominent location," then that sad elephant, with a tear running down its cheek and a shackle on its leg," will enter public discourse, and as the PETA elephant and the public interact, if that interaction is in good faith," will transform the discourse on circus elephants. Somewhere in Washington, D.C., a little child will see that tear and those shackles, and will open his/her heart more readily to the circus elephant, and will be a little closer to seeing past the glitter to the pain on circus day, hopefully demanding, in the elephants' name, more humane treatment, less subjugation and oppression.