A plan to unveil a bronze replica of the "knotted gun" statue as a symbol of peace and nonviolence at Honolulu Community College on the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s assassination is raising questions about the role of provocative art on a public campus.
Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswaerd created the "knotted gun" in 1980 following the murder of his friend Lennon, the former Beatle. The statue’s title is "Non-Violence." Copies of the cocked, .45-caliber revolver — with a twisted barrel rendering it useless — have 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 a grassy patch of HCC that has come to be known as a quiet place for reflection seemed like the perfect spot to some faculty members for an Oct. 3 groundbreaking and a Dec. 8 dedication of the "knotted gun" that would coincide with the commemoration of Lennon’s murder.
They originally wanted to break ground next month on a new home for a 40-inch-wide, 27-inch-tall version of the "knotted gun" in an area 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. Snyder, of Kailua, was a passenger on United Airlines Flight 93 when it was hijacked by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, and crashed into a Pennsylvania field, killing everyone aboard.
But the grassy area at HCC also is adjacent to the college’s Keiki Hauoli Children’s Center and its outdoor playground.
Student Body President Howard Kam III this week pointed out from the student government office directly across from the playground and said, "Children will look at a giant gun without knowing the symbolism of a twisted barrel."
Public art, especially on a college campus, should encourage discussion and debate, said HCC art history professor Marcia Roberts-Deutsch, who sits on a committee considering the location of the "knotted gun."
But even Roberts-Deutsch questions whether the "knotted gun" should be installed anywhere on campus, partly because she teaches women’s studies courses that include students who have been victims of violence.
"I’m definitely a proponent of free speech and of provocative art, even art that can be troubling," Roberts-Deutsch said. "But this has the potential to cause discomfort on campus."
The copy of the "knotted gun" intended as a donation to HCC has been taking up valuable space for the last two years in the Capitol offices of state Rep. John Mizuno (D, Kamehameha Heights-Kalihi Valley-Fort Shafter).
Miscommunication between Mizuno’s staff and the peace group Soka Gakkai International resulted in Soka Gakkai delivering the 350-pound "knotted gun" to Mizuno’s office two years ago, with no ultimate destination, Mizuno said.
He looked for a new home for the "knotted gun" at the state Capitol, the University of Hawaii at Manoa and the East-West Center and was turned away by "too much red tape," Mizuno said.
Another idea to install the "knotted gun" on city property at a busy intersection of Bishop Street was voted down by the Downtown Neighborhood Board, Mizuno said.
"HCC is a little more progressive with their artwork," Mizuno said. "I knew we would find a home for it."
HCC history professor Rick Ziegler brought the piece of the Berlin Wall to campus at no cost to HCC and is equally proud of the steel Twin Towers piece created by HCC sheet metal instructor Danny Aiu. The work includes a chunk of World Trade Center rubble and a charred piece of the roof of the Pentagon, which also was attacked on Sept. 11.
The "knotted gun" that could go up at HCC has special significance because Lennon’s killer, Mark David Chapman, once lived and worked in Hawaii, said HCC Chancellor Michael Rota, who will ultimately decide whether to accept the statue and where it would be displayed.
"It would not be out of the ordinary, given the Hawaii connection, to have an opportunity to display that statue," Rota said. "It’s designed to have a message and part of that message creates a controversy both for and against. I personally think it’s the role of the university to provide students with an educational opportunity to debate issues of this nature. That’s one of the reasons we’re open."
Ziegler would like to see the "knotted gun" outfitted with a plaque explaining the nonviolent intent of the piece.
While he understands why it may not be appropriate to have the "knotted gun" in constant view of children, Ziegler does believe it has a place somewhere on HCC’s campus.
"This piece is striking people quite differently, from the left and from the right," Ziegler said. "But that’s what art’s supposed to do. And college campuses are supposed to be about the marketplace of ideas."