The University of New Mexico has rejected
a sculpture it had commissioned from a
Native-American artist because his final
product includes barbed wire.
The work, "Cultural Crossroads," by Bob
Haozous, "is not the work we
commissioned," says Bob Walsh, director of
UNM's Pine Arts Museum. "It is
The model that Haozous presented is
different from the final product, says Walsh.
And while a number of changes were made
from the original model, it is one change, in
particular, that has raised the
ire of the university -- the razor wire that sits
atop the work.
The sculpture depicts a migration scene
from an old Aztec picture book. Three
Indians are shown migrating toward
Albuquerque in the United States. According
to Haozous, the work depicts a border
"Everything in the work is a symbol,"
says Haozous, explaining that the full title of
the work is called "Cultural Crossroads of the
Americas." The barbed wire, which
appears both in his work and along the
U.S.-Mexico border, "is a dehumanizing part
of our lives.... It's tremendous symbolism."
As to why it was not part of the original
model, he says: "The work matured in the
Censorship or Contractual Obligations
At the moment, the university is
withholding payment to Haozous and is
attempting to get the artist to remove the wire
from the work. One of the other alternatives
is to remove the sculpture altogether from the
university grounds, says Walsh, who insists
that the issue is not about censorship but
about contractual obligations.
"It depends on your point of view, and I
admit there are other points of view,"
If the barbed wire remains, it would both
subvert the process and be unfair to the other
artists who submitted their works, he says,
because they participated in a competitive
"The piece he delivered may be better
than the one he proposed, but we really want
that piece [that was approved]. The one he
delivered is significantly different," complains
The issue, says Walsh, is about
respecting the integrity of the process. More
than 200 people from the public approved
the model. "Next time, when we ask people
to help us choose, they will wonder: 'why
should I bother to vote?' It encourages
"We know art is controversial," adds
Walsh. "I love his work because it is
controversial. The wire gives it a different bite
Haozous believes the controversy is not
about the process, but rather about the
message. People object to the fact that it's not
decorative art -- not the kind of art that whites
have become accustomed to seeing or that
they have come to expect from Native
Americans, says Haozous.
"They don't want to see the holocaust
against brown people, about what they're
doing to them on the border," accuses
Public Discussion Proposed
The commissioned work is actually a
joint venture between the city and the
university. Jane Sprague, assistant
coordinator for the city's public art program,
says the city found the work to be acceptable.
The city's art board, she says, found the work
to be a "social, cultural and political
commentary, within the context of what he
[Haozous] proposed. It was his type of art
work and the board found it acceptable."
Sprague says there is no precedent for
handling such a dispute when the city
approves and the university disapproves of a
piece of art. …