Over the holiday weekend, the town of Bemidji, Minnesota removed a piece of public artwork by Deborah Davis entitled Gaea. It is a statue of a beaver, one of ten in the city. The reason for its removal was over what was depicted on the beaver’s belly. The artist said it is supposed to be a depiction of two hands praying; however, when glancing at it, one could easily mistake it for a portrayal of female genitalia. Its removal, though, created an active outcry by residents and artists which forced the city council to reverse its earlier decision and put Gaea back in its place in downtown Bemidji.
Bemidji should be applauded for the way they handled the beaver affair. They gave the statue and its artist a fair hearing in democratic fashion. A town hall was convened where the issue could be discussed, and people could tell the city council what they thought of Gaea. What is even more heartening is the magnitude of the response from artists and concerned citizens who are worried about the effect of censorship on their community. More than 80 people attended, and 12 people came up to the podium and defended the beaver statue.
There are many stories of censorship across the country with some town or organization removing a piece of artwork because they are afraid it might offend someone for some reason. It is always refreshing to hear of a case where artistic expression and free speech win the day. As one of the speakers in attendance at the town hall meeting, Brian Donovan, said:
Bemidji has aspired to be an especially art-friendly city… We need to be careful not to chill the climate for artistic expression in the form of public art in this sculpture walk and elsewhere. Nothing chills expression more than censorship.