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'A teaching tool'

The much-debated "knotted gun" statue is installed at Honolulu Community College

By Dan Nakaso

LAST UPDATED: 2:33 a.m. HST, Dec 9, 2010

The most hotly debated issue in Chancellor Michael Rota's tenure at Honolulu Community College was finally settled yesterday when he helped unveil a statue of a pistol with a knotted barrel designed to honor former Beatle John Lennon, who was assassinated 30 years ago yesterday by a former Hawaii resident.

Students, faculty and staff -- and even people outside of HCC's campus life -- had been divided over the original plan to place a 40-inch-wide, 27-inch-tall bronze replica of the so-called "knotted gun" statue in a grassy area adjacent to HCC's Keiki Hauoli Children's Center and its outdoor playground.

Or even whether HCC should accept the symbol of peace and nonviolence at all from the international Non-Violence Alliance, Rota said.

But after researching the intent of the sculpture titled "Non-Violence" and the controversy it has spawned around the world, Rota decided the debate is exactly the kind of provocative thinking that campuses like HCC should promote.

"Some people said it would be perceived by the military as against them," Rota said. "Some wondered whether it promotes violence, and clearly it does not. That kind of controversy was an important part of my decision whether to have it on campus. These are the kinds of issues that should be talked about in an academic setting."

Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reutersward created the original sculpture of a cocked, .45-caliber revolver -- with a twisted barrel rendering it useless -- in 1980 following the murder of his friend Lennon at the hands of former Honolulu resident Mark David Chapman.

Copies of the statue in varying sizes have since been installed around the world, including at the United Nations Plaza, the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee and at the waterfront in Cape Town, South Africa.

So some HCC faculty members thought a copy would find a perfect home in a grassy area of the campus that already holds a 3-ton hunk of the Berlin Wall; a metal statue depicting New York's Twin Towers; and a bench honoring HCC alumna Christine Snyder, who died on Sept. 11, 2001, when United Airlines Flight 93 was hijacked by terrorists.

In making the decision to accept the statue, Rota bowed to the concerns of placing it near children by instead installing it inside HCC's cafeteria, where it can also be seen by people walking along busy Dillingham Boulevard.

"A lot of students and the community at large weren't too thrilled at first, mainly because the statute is of a gun and the children wouldn't understand the symbolism," said HCC student senator-at-large Ryan Adverderada.

More recently, as the statue stood under wraps in the cafeteria awaiting yesterday's unveiling, fellow students asked Adverderada about the intent behind the sculpture.

"A lot were thrilled it had no negative meaning," Adverderada said. "Now a lot of them are honored to have it here."

Yesterday's ceremony included speeches about the intent of the statue, the controversy surrounding it, Lennon's iconic role as a musician and peace activist, the hanging of handwritten wishes for peace on a special "peace wish tree" and a rendition of Lennon's peace anthem, "Imagine," sung by campus spokeswoman Billie Takaki Lueder.

Afterward, Rota welcomed the conclusion of the most divisive issue he has overseen in his three years as HCC chancellor.

And he hopes that faculty and students who see the statue every day in the cafeteria use it as an example to unflinchingly explore other controversial topics.

"It gave us a good opportunity to provide an educational avenue that one doesn't always get," Rota said. "It's a teaching tool."

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