Sculpture defacing detracts from dialogue


Courtesy Wichita State

“Tres Mujeres Caminando,” a statue of three women located outside the Rhatigan Student Center, across from Grace Memorial Chapel, were discovered to have duct tape on the mouths. Ulrich Museum of Art preparators removed the duct tape Thursday morning.

Art and activism don’t have to be at odds with each other. In fact, many artists routinely use their work to bring about awareness and advocate for social change.

That’s not what’s happening at Wichita State.

The duct tape that briefly covered the mouths of 11 female figures in outdoor sculptures at Wichita State last week was not a meticulously placed artistic touch, but a destructive distraction from meaningful dialogue.

No one has claimed responsibility for the duct tape, or, for that matter, the fliers plastering Robert Indiana’s “LOVE” sculpture that depict the now-infamous image of two Phi Delta Theta members hanging a banner with the words “New Members … Free House Tours,” but it’s clear that vandalizing sculptures has become a means of making social commentaries on campus.

This expression isn’t without consequences. The duct tape, which left a residue on the artwork that will necessitate careful removal, could cause Wichita State to install expensive security cameras or even move pieces from the outdoor sculpture collection indoors.

Activism is supposed to get people’s attention. It can be disruptive. But it shouldn’t be destructive.

There’s no way to conclusively say what the vandalism was intended to signify, but duct taped mouths are widely understood to represent a sense of being silenced and devalued.

If activists did in fact mean to call attention to the plight of sexual abuse victims who feel marginalized and silenced, they could have gone about it in a much more productive manner.

Fliers around campus can be informative. Duct tape covering the mouths of willing participants can provide a powerful social commentary about oppression.

Vandalizing sculptures certainly got people’s attention, but not for the right reasons.

It has started a conversation about defacing artwork, that detracts from the important dialogue about sexual baiting that the Wichita State community should be engaged in after the banner incident.

Well-intentioned or otherwise, no one is above reproach when it comes to vandalism.

Sculptures are in no way more important than victims of sexual abuse. They’re just a distraction.

The sooner conversations about sculpture defacing can be put to rest, the sooner a productive dialogue can be reopened.