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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Memorial to a Murder

posted by on March 20 at 17:47 PM

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.


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Let's cut through the hundreds of words of modern-art bullshittery and just say how this looks more like someone experiencing the final expulsion of a huge, hard, painful shit.

Posted by The CHZA | March 20, 2007 5:53 PM

Jen, have you seen The Life and Times of Vincent Van Gogh? In my opinion it's the best film about him. I bring it up because the scene of his suicide looks very much like that memorial sculpture, though from his own POV.

Posted by daniel | March 20, 2007 9:07 PM

I guess one would have to gaze upon it in person, but it does not appear to give off much of the drama or hysteria of the circumstances it supposedly references.

While were at it, what is it with Stranger writers waxing poetic about buildings or sculpture, their observations based solely upon tiny images they discover on the internets?

Posted by Jim Demetre | March 20, 2007 9:23 PM

Your description is better than the work. Designer-y looking early 70s gee gaw.

Posted by rufus jones | March 20, 2007 9:39 PM

I am thankful the grotesque butchery by an insane religious fanatic of Mr. Van Gogh has received a memorial. A victim of ignorance.

Posted by Laurence Ballard | March 21, 2007 9:07 AM

Not to be pedantic, but isn't that Ayaan Hirsi Ali, not Hirsa Ali?

Posted by Ursula | March 21, 2007 10:24 AM

Scuptures of contemporary heros should focus on common people in uncommon struggles. The ghost bikes are an excellent example.

But something more monumental should be put up to commemorate the WTO in downtown in 1999. Maybe a kenetic sculpture that sprays pepper spray.

Posted by RainMonkey | March 21, 2007 10:48 AM

It does scream 1970s. Since I'm in my 40s I kind of like it. But I do think it fails to convey its meaning.

Posted by elswinger | March 21, 2007 4:44 PM

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