Arts Memorial to a Murder
posted by March 20 at 17:47 PMon
In tomorrow’s edition of The Stranger, Cienna Madrid takes a look at the early memorial statuary of Seattle, the bronze portraits of William H. Seward and the like, and she wonders who might make a good candidate for a civic statue now.
In Amsterdam today, not far from where he was murdered, the writer and filmmaker Theo van Gogh was honored with a memorial sculpture that depicts him in mid-scream. It is a layered outline of his face in profile, head thrown back, mouth opening, cast in ceramic and coated in stainless steel. The thin layers are formally reminiscent of the flatness—both physically and emotionally—of Lichtenstein’s pop sculptures, but the layers also carry the appearance of a face veiled, like the outlined nude bodies of the Muslim women depicted in van Gogh’s controversial film, Submission. The film, written by the Somali-born Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsa Ali and directed by van Gogh (a descendant of Vincent’s brother, Theo), was mentioned in the note that was attached to van Gogh’s chest with a knife by his killer, the 26-year-old Islamist Mohammed Bouyeri. Bouyeri shot the filmmaker eight times, slit his throat, and stabbed him in the chest, out in the street on Tuesday morning, November 2, 2004. (Bouyeri is in prison without parole; Hirsa Ali went into hiding for a while and now travels with bodyguards.)
The sculpture’s most obvious a reference is to van Gogh’s painful death, and the moment of action in it is at the mouth, which also refers, according to Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen, to van Gogh’s reputation as a loudmouth who satirized and criticized several religions, including Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Van Gogh was not a loudmouth but a titan of free speech, Cohen says. The artist, Jeroen Henneman, titled it The Scream, as if to declare it a defiant symbol of free speech. But of course the mouth is not the center of this work, the neck is, the throat open and closest to the ground so you come right upon it when you pass. The mosque-torchings, the fiery and unresolved debates about censorship and immigration—it’s a moment well-memorialized by the frailty of an exposed throat.