By Bachi Karkaria/TNN
Mumbal: The culture-vulture Parsis would be mighty pleased over a prestigious Australian sculpture symbolizing their ancient religion commissioned by Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, mother of media baron Rupert, right? Wrong. Under standably so. The monumental bronze was a virile frontally nude named after their Prophet Zarathushtra.
The community, especially the sizeable Australian diaspora, did not bombard the authorities and sculptor Peter Schipper heyn with fire bombs or death threats, but their letters of protest were effective enough. The statue was unveiled as planned on April 1, but without the of fending title. ‘ reference to the name Zarathushtra has been erased. This decision was arrived at in consultation with the Australian Zoroastrian Association of NSW and Victroria,” as Schipperheyn’s web- site put it a day before the opening on April 1. This tiny minority continues to teach its quiet lessons to a larger, more raucous world.
Not that all the protest sizzling through cyberspace had been in measured tones. A Mr F Movdawala had expressed his indignation direct ly to the ‘blaspheming’ sculptor: “ARE YOU A CANMBAL OR A JUN GLEE? YOU ARE NOT A HUMAN. NEITHER THE PERSON WHO GAVE BIRTH TO YOU WAS OR IS HUMAN. YOU SHOULD BE EXTERMI NATED FROM THIS PLANET. IF YOU WOULD HAVE BEEN IN MY PART OF THE WORLD I WOULD HAVE MERCI LESSLY BEATEN AND POUNDED YOU TO PULP AND HAVE THROWN YOUR REMAINS INTO A SEWER.”
To a questionnaire I mailed him before the retraction on whether he was aware of the revered position of the Prophet Zarathushtra beyond Nietszche’s book ti tle, Schipperheyn replied, “It’s three in the morning and I am unable to sleep, I have got so wound up about this whole matter. In my opinion the west needs a prophetic voice, needs a Zarathustra. I thought I was going to stir up the scene here in Australia, I mean present an art work that is anti-modernist anti-secularist. I was quite unprepared for a reaction as I have received from within the Zoroastrian community”
Peter had his own divine explanation. “The idea of the gesture of the open hand and clenched fist came to me in a dream. Upon awaking I pounced upon the al ready fading vision and sketched it in my journal. This dream was followed by a serendipitous event. Michael a friend who I had originally met in Rome wan dering around called to say he was com ing to Melbourne. I said but you will have to model for a sculpture! Michael had ex actly the physique I imagined–Bondi surfie, muscles shaped by waves of the sea. So I made in clay a one-metre tall ver sion. From the outset I always wanted to make this sculpture ‘big’… Well I had to wait 20 years. This opportunity was given to me by the very gracious 95-year-old Dame Elisabeth Murdoch AC DBE . She visited me at my studio. After tea and scones, she turned to the small bronze ver sion in a corner, and asked if it would be possible to make a large version of this work at the McClel land Gallery–as the Bakac by Rodin that was on loan had been returned. So began a process of metamor phosis from Bondi sur fie into ‘Zarathustra’.
“But I still did not have a name for him. At some point I thought of ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’, I started to reread this book and it made sense to me. I decided to call my sculp ture Zarathustra; this all happened quickly and as far as the commissioner was concerned I was making a sculpture with a strange sounding name derived form a book by a mad German philoso pher that no one really understood.”
After the retraction, Peter sent another mail clarifying that despite the name, the sculpture was not a depiction of the Prophet Zarathushtra, but “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. In conclusion, I apologise for the upset that I have inad vertently caused”. He added, “I still have not been able to sleep!” Presumably, the explicit Mr Movdawala no longer has the same problem.
The community, especially the sizable Australian diaspora, did not bombard the authorities and sculptor Peter Schipperheyn with fire bombs or death threats, but their letters of protest were effective enough. The statue will be unveiled without the offending title