“Zarathustra” the Sculpture

Post UPDATED since original posting. Read ahead.

Today morning I received a forwarded email from Adil Nariman, from Sydney Australia. It brought to my attention, the events that will lead to the unveiling of Australia’s most imposing bronze nude statue. While this would otherwise be very good news, it rankled me when I read about the subject of the sculpture. The sculpture is titled “Zarathustra”, after the prophet who started the religion of Zoroastrianism and of which I am a follower.

As the website announces

A magnificent 4 metre high bronze figure of Zarathustra will be unveiled by Dame Elisabeth Murdoch on 1st April at McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park. The eminient Melbourne sculptor Peter Schipperheyn was selected to undertake the mammoth commission. The sculpure will sit in pride of place on an island in front of the McClelland gallery. [….link to McClelland Gallery ]

The sculpture titled “Zarathustra”

Looking at the sculpture, one but cannot understand why the sculptor Peter Schipperheyn would call it thus. Making religious subjects and leaders part of art has had a bloody past. Just last January, hundreds of thousands of muslims the world over went on a rampage, after a small Danish newspaper published a series of cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammad in “bad light”. That to the muslims of the world was sacriligious. A couple of years ago, Mother Mary was depicted in “derogatory fashion” in an art installation at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. That led to a major fiasco, with the mayor of NYC having to make a stand and alienating a vast majority of the population.

The famous painter M F Hussain painted the Hindu goddess Saraswati in a painting and the right wing Hindu fundamentalist went berserk and did a lot of damage to property, and (I think) life.

This all bring me back to the contentious issue of protraying gods, goddesses and religious icons in context that one is not usually accustomed to.

Adil mentions in his letter to the powers that be…

However, the main reason I am writing is to express deep disappointment, sadness and astonishment that you would name this sculpture Zarathushtra, the name of a great Prophet.. The statue is neither a likeness (nor should it be) of the Great, all knowing Prophet but to depict Him nude is both disgusting to our sentiments and offensive. I’m sure you are aware that there are a number of followers and devotees of the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism who live here in Australia and all over the world. This religion is the oldest monotheist religion that was founded by the Lord Zoroaster around 1200 C. I am a follower of this faith and am blessed to have been born into it.

Does this mean that the Zoroastrians and Parsis, the world over will go on a rampage? Will the Parsis in Bombay go and burn the Australian Consulate in Bombay and attack the Embassey in New Delhi? Will the 5000 strong Parsi community in Toronto, march onto Younge Street and make their protests be heard. ?

Zarathustra the Prophet, worshipped by zoroastrians the world over.

Should the police in India be put on high alert and all the Parsi leaders be arrested, lest they incite arson and terror.

No. This will never happen and I will elaborate why.

Personally I dont conform to the view above. As Zoroastrians and Parsis, we are a very tolerant religion and culture. How may times in history have you heard of Parsis taking arms against anyone. When our religion was under seige 1400+ years ago, we chose to set sail and live in another land and not take arms against the marauding Muslim Armies.

Right through British occupation, the Parsis tended towards non violence and other means to create the betterment of their own countrymen. The Tatas and their story comes to mind. Of course this can be a point of argument, and I will leave this for another day.

Personally, I don’t subscribe to Adil’s view. I don’t see anything wrong in what the piece of sculpture is named. It does not matter to me. Looking at it is not going to alter my vision and view of my prophet and the supreme being I worship.

This is a piece of art and it has to be seen in that context. Trying to waste our energies in fighting battles that don’t exist is foolish.

And if you were also wondering why the Parsis wont go on a rampage in Bombay, you gotta keep in mind that there are only 55,000 of us left in Bombay. Not even enough to fill half of Oval Maidan or a quarter of Azad Maidan.

Parsis are generally very forward thinking in their outlook to society, culture and the arts. For centuries we have been pioneers in breaking social taboos. The first women to study in India were Parsi women. Thats a fine case in point.

Then why in this day and age should we become conservative in our outlook ?? This aint done.

As much as I know that this sculpture ain’t Zarathustra, I am happy that the amount of publicity it will generate will be good for our religion. The world will know a bit more about the oldest monotheistic religion in the world, and about the tolerant forward thinking nature of its followers.

UPDATE

There seems to be some confusion in the way the sculpture is named. The news article calls it Zarathustra, whereas the sculptors website calls it “Thus Spake Zarathustra” [thanks Tamina for the tip]

“To the Zoroastrian Community I would like to state that this sculpture is not a dipiction of the Prophet Zarathustra. My inspiration came from reading “THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA” by Friedrich Nietzsche” […..link…..]

  • Just wanted to ask since Greek and Roman pantheon was often depicted in nude, does Persia has a similar history ?

    Regards

  • Sheetal Irani

    Give me a break from the self-loading of virtue. The community is just too tiny to effectively protest or to even come out with a statement. You cannot compare instances when the variables don’t match. I deeply appreciate what the Parsi community has contributed in terms of intellectual capital, business networks and cosmopolitanism – but biases exist in the community. I should know – I married a Parsi man, and his family went to great lengths to make me feel uncomfortable.

    A lot of young Parsi people are just indifferent to their own religion. Exactly how many do you see queuing up outside the fire temple? Compare that to the bigger religions. Young blood comes cheap. Parsi community has no young blood to bleed – the community is shrinking anyway. The tolerance that you see is more of a survival mechanism.

  • Sheetal.

    You mean to say that because the community is small, its feelings and emotions can be trampled over ??

    Why do i feel from your rant that your comment has more to do with “and his family went to great lengths to make me feel uncomfortable” and not the actual content of the post or the issue of the post at hand.

    You make many generalizations. Let me just say that I am one of the “young blood” of the community.

    Yes I agree that the community could give out a statement. But that would be if we had a structure similar to Christianity and The Church. Zoroastrianism does not work that way.

    And nor do most religions. Did the Muslims give out a statement unilaterally during the recent cartoon controversey ? Do the Hindus give out one statement everytime something happens and the need for a statement becomes necessary ??

    I hope that you will take the issue at hand and comment on it instead of bringing other issues into this conversation.

    I would welcome your opinions.

  • Jonathan Stedman

    I’m afraid that Mr Schipperheyn has given into protests and has now removed ‘Zarathustra’ from the statue. I am sorry to say the statue has been emasculated by this.

    Arzan – Before this was done I would agree with your comment ” As much as I know that this sculpture ain’t Zarathustra, I am happy that the amount of publicity it will generate will be good for our religion. The world will know a bit more about the oldest monotheistic religion in the world, and about the tolerant forward thinking nature of its followers.”

    However, now Zoroastrians too will be thought of as the same as other ‘thoughtless’ kneejerk religions that are taking over our mindsets all over the world.

    I have written to him expressing my sadness but perhaps he can be made to change his mind. It offends me that a man who has expressed his free will in a work of art that is merely of a man (and no one argues that Zarathustra was anything other than a man) has been threatened.

    Regards

    Jonathan

  • Peter Schipperheyn

    Open letter to the Zoroastrian Community

    I have received quite a number of emails regarding my sculpture. Firstly my sculpture is strictly speaking not a depiction of the Prophet Zarathustra.

    I would like to put my position my beliefs and reasons for making this work in some form to discuss further. I believe we are all spiritual beings, I am delving into what are my own Western traditions and spirituality which as you would know has been influenced by Zoroastrianism.

    The starting point for my sculpture was the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche’s book “Thus Spake Zarathustra”. He wrote this book in the 19th Century. At the time I did not know who Zarathustra was, I wondered why Nietzsche called the protagonist of his book Zarathustra, this led me to research who Zarathustra was. And when I began to understand a little of [I humbly submit I am not a scholar my knowledge is limited] the power of his ideas and from reading the research of scholars in these areas it is plain to see the influence of his legacy re: Judaism Christianity and Islam.

    As an artist I have swum against the tide of Modernism and of Secularism. The ancient world has exerted a power over my imagination; these understanding came to me in good part via the sculpture of Ancient Greece who as an aside portrayed their Gods nude, and this sculptural language set for me a precedent. Even though I have called my sculpture a name, and that you have taken this as an intention by me to depict the Prophet Zarathustra, my sculpture is not an attempt to portray an individual, indeed my sculpture is not a depiction of the Prophet Zarathustra.

    It is rather my attempt to portray the essential drama of what it means to be human, of the struggle between good and evil, of light and dark, these are issues common to all peoples and of course there is a long a history, hence my reason for naming the sculpture as I have.

    In conclusion I apologize for the upset that I have inadvertantly caused, however I am concerned that my intentions are being misconstrued and misread, this greatly concerns me. I have not worked so hard for so many years to simply upset people. I feel that I have a responsibility to the world and the beauty of creation to do good, to inspire, to live a purposeful life.

    The Gallery [who are not resposible for the naming or otherwise of my sculpture] where this sculpture will be installed has asked me to erase the name, I have agreed to this but I am saddened that this must be done. In my eyes the sculpture remains, but “he” will be stripped of something powerful that I think empowers the viewer, especially the western viewer. I have been so wound up in my own thoughts and excitement about the significance of what I am trying to do that I did not countenance that my artwork would stir up the opposite of what I hoped for. I thought that I was being provactive to Western Culture by trying to present a work whose message is we are spiritual beings!
    Peter Schipperheyn

  • Cyrus Bulsara

    I think Arzan Wadia a very confused man. He makes several contadictory statements. He does not have a worldview of what is going on with fake cults saying they are Zoroastrians in USA and eleswhere.

    The naive young man should take a trip,open his eyes and ears and he will then understand why we need to protest…NON-VIOLENTLY!

    Wake up Arzan baba…wake up !

    Cyrus

  • Cyrus

    Thanks for your comments.

    I would like to know why you think I am a confused man ??

    Can you elaborate your reasoning for why you think we should protest. I would love to hear that.

    I understand all you say about the “world view”. And you can read my views on the “world view” here

    I think we are wasting our time in protesting against something that has no consequence.

  • Hushang

    ” God Forgive them for they do not know what they do” ….I must add a few words myself here.. to change “what they say and make ” as well.

    Those are Famous words of a Prophet of another time,A Prophet called Jesus Christ, like our Beloved Prophet Zarathustra who arrived thousands of years before him and who influenced all the major religions of this world, who is being defiled today as has never happened in Persian history before and his followers tormented.

    Asho Zarathushtra and Jesus Christ, both of them, had “tried” to teach mankind what God, Religion, and Mankind’s fight against evil meant! They took on worldly sins to redeem mankind, and in his greatness Holy Christ willingly forgave the evil tyrants and all those who influenced his crucifixion.

    He taught his disciples, one of them coincidently named Peter to spread the good word.

    But here Alas, we are reaching a stage which sadly takes us back to the days of Sodom and Gomorrah…

    “They chastise the insolence of the Sodomites: They smote them with blindness, v. 11. This was designed,
    To put an end to their attempt, and disable them from pursuing it. Justly were those struck blind who had been deaf to reason. Violent persecutors are often infatuated so that they cannot push on their malicious designs against God’s messengers, Job 5:14, 15. Yet these Sodomites, after they were struck blind, continued seeking the door, to break it down, till they were tired. No judgments will, of themselves, change the corrupt natures and purposes of wicked men. If their minds had not been blinded as well as their bodies, they would have said, as the magicians, This is the finger of God, and would have submitted.

    It was to be an earnest of their utter ruin, the next day. When God, in a way of righteous judgment, blinds men, their condition is already desperate, Rom. 11:8, 9.”..the Bible says these words above….

    The Sculptor has created nothing but a pure ,pornographic evil, and to think there are people of this age who do not blink an eye to call it art, and to forward it unashamed all over, without even deleting the evil photograph in their hurry have sinned themselves. and lost all they have been taught.

    The responsible people in Australia who will not think twice to let the statue be displayed on the streets in front of their wives and children, truly they all are blinded already. Just because the Romans had them, must they too ?! they think they do, and they will still call themselves good Christians with a straight face !

    We have some amongst us here, being Zarathushtis, who also are unable to see and are so devoid of any religious morality and respect – like Arzan Sam Wadia who thinks any thing goes..and who blinded by modern thought, thinks progress and creativity include changing our time tested religious norms and tenets and who thinks he is so intelligent in his logic and thinking that it does not matter ! Shame on him ! He and all like him are a disgrace to the Zarathushtrian community, Well, he sure is granted the freedom to think as he does, but the consequences of his thoughts, words, and actions are sure going to cost him his minds peace in the future and his entire lifetime, he needs to be condemned on par with the sculptor. I wonder how old he is?

    He thinks 120,000 Parsees and Iranis the world over are not good enough in numbers to take on one sculptor ! He should brush up on his History, where is a mention of a few of our women, because of the men of the village being away for some reason, dressed up as men in the past, and fought their invaders till death. all for honour and the defence of our faith.

    What do you need Arzan Wadia ?! an army ! A true Zarathushti would go it alone if he were the last one alive , what will you do then if you were given one. I could be very direct here to prove my point and only then would you understand what it means , but I will allow you to reflect on what I say, only because I am not aware of your age.

    There are always people who Arzan here, who like to think different for thinking different sake. who think they are doing people a favour, actually here only ahriman is being favoured as I can see.
    They so conveniently forget all they were taught, if at all they were. The Wadias, once an illustrious Parsee family, but this generation has seen many who carry the surname, hell bent on soiling the name of their noble ancestors. But thank God There are still many I know, who are quite faithfull and noble.

    Chinvat is where you won’t be so damned cocky Arzan and able to look up and face Sarosh in the eye for condoning this blasphemy.

    Shame on you Arzan, Peter Schipperheyn, Dame Elisabeth , What do you all need to stop this blasphemy ? . Are you all showing the world that you need Muslims alone and their terrorism to put the fear of the devil into you all. For a few caricature on email, the world was shaken up. and many lost their lives.

    For this impossible unimaginable blasphemy, we can only pray to our Lord to put some sense into you all, and our Humdeens there in Australia to have the courage to stop it by any and all civil means at their disposal.

    The President of the Zarathushtrian Community in Australia/New Zealand, The Scholars there , and all Prominent Zarathushtis the world over, The B.P.P. – Vada Dasturjis here and the Mobeds and Zarathushti Anjuman of Iran, will be held entirely responsible if this is allowed to go through. Do Your Duty and stop this evil from standing by being called what they want to call it.

    A peaceful people’s Prophet and religious sentiments cannot be insulted and defiled at will.

    Hushang

  • I am 32 years of age. Does that change the way you would reason ??

    I do not know your age too, and therefore out of respect do not question your judgement.

    But besides the negativity that your comments bring out, there is nothing i gather about what you are really trying to say.

    I would really like to know what your gripe is against this statue being labelled “Zarathustra”.

    It would be great if you could answer this clearly without invoking the presence of God, or quoting from the scriptures.

    And did you bother to read the statement of the sculptor himself ?? He clearly states that the sculpture is named after the treatise written by Nietzche. He was inspired by the book and hence the title of his art.

    As regards viewing the sculpture….if you really think that it is pornographic, then i respect your sensibilities, but please do not impose it on the whole society.

    At the same time, I speak as a Parsi and so do you. But remember, neither one of us speaks for the whole community. We speak for ourselves.

  • ahshad

    Hushang, Cyrus, Sheetal…
    Such strong sentiments that all of you’ll resort to derogatory and rude comments. You want to quote texts and probably you have read a lot more than I have, but you’ll fail to grab the essence of all that.

    Where is the kindness, the love and the mercy that stems out of good thoughts, words and deeds: the pillars of our religion.

    You must understand that people think differently. Everyone may not have similar opinions, but that does not make the other less right. If you are truly interested that the other should see eye to eye then you must use the power of persuasion and in a scholarly and dignified manner explain your point.

    Arzan you seemed to be the only one here who seems to have some kindness and didn’t resort to any sort of aggressive or harsh attacks… but I don’t agree with you on the issue of the sculptor, but am glad the issue was handled in an honorable manner.
    Regards.

  • Fariborz Jamshidi

    I think most of old people steel in dark ages and they can not understand the philasephy behind this, it is wondeful job and I must admire peter who has done a great adn wonderful job and he has selected excellent name for that.
    I am Zeorastrian and I live in Sydney.

  • frustrated

    I would like to stay annonomous, as I am not an argumentative person and I have no political aspiration within our community, but I will say the following:

    This whole issue is a classic case of why our religion/culture/identity is doomed to extinction. As Zoroastrians, we are not victims of a dwindling population crisis, we are not poor sufferers who are persecuted and pushed down by others – if anything we are SUICIDAL.

    Some elements of the older generation are so narrow minded and singularly focused on retaining the purity and honour of the race, that they are suffocating it’s chances of survival. My understanding is that Zoroastrianism is about tolerance, compassion and acceptance.

    Now we are in a position where a few fundamentalists who have way too much time on their hands, and way too much arrogance in their hearts, are putting themselves and the community as a whole at risk.

    We live in a global community (not an ethnic “Colony”), and if we can not adjust our tolerance levels to suit, then we are nothing more than an extremists cult.

    I don’t mean to offend anyone (truely), this is just one young mans opinion. I don’t mean to push it on anyone, and I don’t argue my opinion is more or less valid than others. I’m sure at times some of you have talked about the ‘youth’, and speculate on how to get the ‘youth’ more involved with our religion. The truth is, the ‘youth’ will never actively participate in this community, as long as we have a small, but loud, minority that are offended by such things as this amazing sculpture.

    Rather than condem the man, we should have developed an information panel to place next to the sculpture to clarify the meaning of the sculpture (i.e. it is not actually suppose to be Zarathustra) and help explain the roots, teachings and principles of the faith (use it to educate and promote).

    We should feel honoured that someone as talented as Mr Schipperheyn even gives a damn about Zarathustra’s message.

  • Peter Schipperheyn

    In Melbourne, Australia most people [ I believe that this would hold true for most of the Western world ] know next to nothing about Zarathustra, who he was or of his teachings, let alone of his influence. I made a sculpture that I called Zarathustra the name has been removed but in my eyes he is still “Zarathustra”.

    In the isolation of my studio and wrapped in my own thoughts I felt that my sculpture represented something elemental and symbolic. Since the outpouring of emails pro and against my sculpture, I have wondered why I never thought to consult with Zoroastrians. Perhaps because I don’t know any for a start [at least this has changed!], but more because I identifyed with the spirit of Zarathustra’s teachings. [His legacy appeared to me as the outer form to my inner thoughts].

    You might be aware of an artist who exhibited a work entitled “Piss Christ” I was not offended by this “artwork” as such, I dismissed it as a bad work, bad because in my opinion it is creatively weak , a calculated decision satisfied with noteriety.

    I had many emails saying that I had blasphemed the Prophet, that I was attacking the religious sensibilities of people. If this had been my sole deisign I would have not agreed to the Gallery removing the name of Zarathustra from my sculpture.

    But there is another aspect I was concerned for a remarkable Lady who commissioned the sculpture lest it reflect badly on her in her advanced years [97]. In conclusion I feel my sculpture and my intention has been comprimised, I sought to express the essence of what it is to be a human being, the “nude” is the human being as he is born.
    Peter Schipperheyn

  • Peter Schipperheyn

    Regarding my sculpture that I called “Zarathustra” he came from my DNA from the depths of experience that is coded into the very design that determines our humanness. I do not believe a concept, an idea or for that matter revelations can be owned exclusively by one group of people at the exclusion of others. I think unconsciously that I had an inkling that I was entering unknown territory, but to be an Artist is to be a risk taker….

    An idea is tested by exposure to the world, like seeds scattered on the land, some will be trampled upon, others will be watered and flourish, others will have to wait to germinate.

    Our times would benefit by asking itself, how come Nietzsche titled his book “Thus Spake Zarathustra”? Nietzsche had an instinct for the evolution of ethical and religious thought and the ramifications of it through time. He was a great thinker saluting another.

    It took me a year and a half to model the clay sculpture, time to think about many things. But it was a slow process, much of my thoughts and study was about trying to make a good representation of the human figure on a scale I had never attempted before!

    Nonetheless as this large figure grew I saw him more and more as embodying the “Prophetic Voice” Sometimes I imagined him as the young “Zarathustra” from an ancient land, standing before time and before all of creation, powerful yet vulnerable, in this beautiful mystery that we experience as life.

    I wonder why I did not consult with Zoroastrians beforehand, perhaps because I didn’t know any [well at least that’s changed] well from my communication with many “Z” people it is very obvious that there is a great debate burning within the Zoroastrian Community itself, and there is a tremendous divergence of opinion regarding the interpretation of the teachings of Zarathustra, this is very much a matter for the Zoroastrian Community but it is also for the whole world! I came to this as an Artist from the western world [and precarious as it is at the moment] the idea of freedom of expression has proved itself as essential to the advancement of the human animal. My sculpture was made with a certain identity it cannot be erased. His identity has been obscured by narrow thinking for the time being. I will even be so bold as to say “He” will be resurrected.

    I say this because as well as receiving hundreds of emails from people who were enraged by my sculpture I also received hundreds of emails from Zoroastrians who were really intrigued, interested and supportive that someone from Australia would even think to make a sculpture with a Zarathustrian connection. Western culture celebrates the Ancient Greeks and their achievements, but who was living right next door across the Bosporus? I started with Nietzsche, and his meditation on the spiritual odyssey of the west whose beginnings can be traced back through time to Zarathustra. Calling my sculpture “Zarathustra” telescopes you to the historical origins of what defines our humanness. My sculptures feet and legs are rooted in the earth, [however the right foot is slightly raised] yet the head is upturned indicating a yearning to join with a metaphysical dimension – the profound desire to comprehend existence. My figure could only be nude, the body is the “spirit” clothed by flesh, creation conscious of itself, the moment between being and becoming. Call me crazy but in my mind he is the greater potential, the “Zarathustra” in all of us!

  • Zarathustrian

    I would like to add my 2 cents to this debate. I am a zarathustrian and i am proud of it. I have not learnt much from our religion because most of it was lost. I would also like to state that we did fight the muslims(arabs) and we lost. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. We did lose quite bit and paid a very heavy price. However, i would like to point out that during the partition a lot of muslims were given shelter in our homes. Why would we help the very people who destroyed us? Good thoughts Good words and Good deeds. I dont have to read pages after pages and depend on someone for interpreting quotes that i cannot understand. Robert Holmes is an artist and his only crime is that he has expressed his feelings. What is wrong in his sculpture? Robert as a zarathustrian allow me to apologise for the comments and actions taken by other members of the community. Infact, i am honoured that you took time to understand the philosopher and sculpt this wonderful statue. Sheetal I am sorry that you in laws made you feel uncomfortable. Let me assure you that we are changing most of my relatives have married outside the community. Zarathustra has been credited of gifting us the concept of free will. I think its only right and fair if we follow what was so dear to him and allow Robert to display the statue. Well done Robert. Infact, what we need to do is invit Robert to bombay and discuss his views on Zarathustrafor over beer and a nice sunday lunch.

  • rustom jamasji

    Well interesting coment’Zarathustrian’about not learning zoroastrianism due to much being lost. After alexander destroyed,then came missoneries and lastly arabs..a 1000 years back…and after that the zoroastrians no only saved it from being extinct, they made sure mazda’s philosophy be passed on.I think you are suffering from slop shoulder in blaming other for your taying ignorant.
    As far good thoughts words n deeds, many due to ignorance and not acceptong what they do not like , fue this and zoroastrianism with social scences taught in school. Factually it represents good words from the holy books, thought on how to act on it and thus act.For instance put thought on dokhmenishini which needs strengthening and work on it.On zoroastrian freedom of choice again lets not turn its sweetness into weakness. You are free to either follow zoroastrianism or not, dont sit ona high chir and think that you have the freedom to alter it..If everyone does it , then it is merely a workshop of individual ideas and choices of the most demanded become zoroastriansim even if it isnt.
    About marrying outside , its our own choices but show how least magnanimous we are when after studying our religion, contributing nil towards it,taking all the benefits, we start changing what was saved by blood swea and tears.Btw sheetal, you and any one else can free to start fighting against the church for not giving communion to non christians,not allowing non hindus/ muslims in their respective temples etc…and also feel free to fight against jains not giving non vege place in their colonies just as muslims christians do.Yet belittle only Zoroastrians..out of ignorance and later arrogance
    @ Peter, sadly fredrech nietche’s philosphy of zarahutsra has very little in common with mazda’s philosophy that zarathustra preached.Infact if all artists took upon themselves liberty then i would have to appologise to my next generation since via democracy, zarathustra and his philosophy can be turned into anything..by votes..maybe u cud have taken Strauss’s Thus spake zarathushtra instead or even one fof the rock bands that malign his name…