Saddam Hussein in a shark tank: How far is too far when it comes to free expressions of art?

By Christina Mitchell

At first glance, this piece of art is horrific to many. The sculpture was made by David Cerny and was nominated in Europe for a Turner Prize award. When looking at this piece of deemed artwork of Saddam Hussein in a shark tank, you begin to try and understand the artists reasonings behind choosing such a controversial setting. As you try to process the image, you try to reason any kind of psychological symbolism the artist is trying to accomplish.

I too looked for the symbolism in this, and possibly the artist means to connect Saddam Hussein to that of a shark by his wrongdoings to others in his lifetime, for in the west, sharks symbolize terror and violence. In America, Hussein caused feelings of anger, hostility and fierceness, and a shark is the most powerful predator of the ocean and is fearless.

Sailors once tattooed sharks on their bodies to prove they were not afraid of death. Possibly, this artist meant for the embalming fluid to be as the symbolic reasoning for his own death and Islam’s religion of embracing the afterlife. But then I saw the philosophical belief behind it, and I was completely thrown off. “Impossibility of death in the minds of something living.” Whatever could David Cerny mean with this statement?

In Polynesia, sharks protect them from enemies, and possibly, this art piece protects and carries on the Islamic religious beliefs. As I took in the title’s meaning, I tried to associate it with this sculpture that Hussein and his beliefs cannot die as long as his followers still carry on his legacy and their beliefs. This could possibly be the psychological connection between the shark, embalming fluid and Hussein. Although we will never know what provoked the artist to create such work as this, we can only assume the message he was trying to create with it.

There will always be controversial art throughout our world. From appropriateness to nude, to racial colors and demonizing statues or messages, as long as art has racial, ethnic or religious factors, it will be disturbing to someone somewhere. With this sculpture, the artist chose to depict a deceased person with little clothing on and tie his hands, leaving most people with a negative feeling of disrespect to the deceased as if he is mocking Hussein. If this image is meant for a public mockery and humiliation of Hussein, no matter what he has done in his lifetime, I think it would be inappropriate to display.

Is this acceptable to showcase publicly? This depiction has caused a hype around the world because it is racy and, to the eye, seems inappropriate. Perhaps the artist David Cerny meant for us to take a chance to look beyond its cover, opening the book fully. But one has to ask regardless of the details and symbolic reasoning for creating such a piece as this one where should we draw the line on free expressions of art?

3 Responses to "Saddam Hussein in a shark tank: How far is too far when it comes to free expressions of art?"

  1. Baz   August 2, 2014 at 9:14 pm

    David Cerny never said “Impossibility of death in the minds of something living.”

    That’s the name of the artwork he appropriated by Damien Hirst… and you even got that wrong. The correct title is actually “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”

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  2. MaryAnn Silika Tonga-Faitau   June 21, 2012 at 1:14 am

    Dull. I am not impressed with the work of David Cerny gaining a nomination for England’s Turner Prize Award. I’d be impressed if the character of Saddam Hussein was dressed in cultural attire, embalmed in a whale’s tank facing side down just like the one exposed in the attached. Why? My answer. Saddam Hussein is but one of many vultures & snakes involved with political &/or religious hostility & violence. Saddam led a life & his life was led by influential leaders, too. He made choices that affect/infect not only his country but the countries who are aligned. If in fact Saddam’s decision affected the rest of the world, the art work was meant to make an example of Saddam. I’m just glad he was given an opportunity. The challenge ended when he was hung by his own. Did not require U.S.leads to show him how to lead his people. The comprehension of a shark in the line of business is exactly that. Saddam Hussein was not a shark. He was a human being who did as he should to uphold the keep for his country men, women, & children. To have dull art work as described from Cerny, I am disappointed that the nominators chose this piece of art as a nomination for the Turner Award. This art has no meaning to me. If there’s an approval, if there’s any thing that Saddam Hussein would provoke from this art project, it would be: “Bury me dead, head down, hands tied behind; leaving my okole face up. USA can kiss my a**. And then…leave me exposed so that I can be the final reminder to my own people – I am the last exposed shame to the world. No more will our country suffer…AGAIN.” And England shared this expose? WONDER WHY? To prove they have the upper hand in elegant art projects? If so, this piece is dull. Not impressed.

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  3. Amy Kamakeeaina-Bird   June 20, 2012 at 11:46 pm

    Personally I don’t think it raises much of anything. I wasn’t alarm w/ the art expression as I can see it. It would be no different than visiting the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum or perhaps an Art Institute. But before he was captured, maybe you’d get a different opinion from me then.

    I feel much safer that his antics are curtailed. It helps me to get on with life and to thing about people who deserve my attention.

    Mahalo nui,
    akb

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