Ganesha in Northern Idaho

I’m on a bit of an Idaho Yoga tour right now, which is turning out to be enlightening, invigorating, and fun.  For those of you who think that Idaho is a national backwater, ruled by white supremacists and neo-cons, I can proudly say that there are shining enclaves of love and light everywhere.  Case in point…

Yesterday I drove up to Coeur d’Alene, ID, to visit the well-known (in my circles anyway!) Garden Street Yoga Center.  Garden Street, itself a beacon of positivity in the community, was founded ten years ago by Karen Sprute-Francovich, a long-time Anusara Yoga Instructor and Idaho panhandle resident.  Karen graciously walked me around town, and we chatted a bit about the culture and feel of the place.  Our destination was the new Ganesha statue right on main street – an obvious site for yogis to check out – but apparently, also a subject of some controversy of late.

Karen Sprute-Francovich of Garden Street Yoga, Ganesha, and Karen Faunce of Nourish in Moscow, ID

Coeur d’Alene has a great collection of public art monuments along its pedestrian-friendly streets, ranging from a metal octopus-bike rack to a tile and glass-inlaid crescent moon.  They are part of the city’s ArtCurrents program, and all 15 of them are for sale. Sculptor Rick Davis created three pieces for the exhibition – Ganesha, St. Francis of Assisi, and a Great Blue Heron. Ganesha was unveiled in early June, and his presence unleashed some controversy, beginning with a petition from an individual representing the Kootenai County Constitution Party, and a plea to protest the sculpture.  From the Constitution Party’s website:

“Christians of Kootenai County should be dismayed at the appearance of a Hindu demon, Ganesh, statue that is currently found on Sherman ave in Coeur d’Alene. The godless group of individuals that manage the “art” of the city have approved this abomination by Rick Davis to be displayed on Sherman Ave.  Kootenai County Christians are encouraged to protest at the “dedication” on Friday June 10th at 5:30pm.”

And from an article printed in the Coeur d’Alene Press:

“In his [the petitioner’s] interpretation, the symbol of Ganesha is too similar to the swastika, the elephant’s trunk depicts a phallic symbol, and the weapons in the statue’s hands represent tools used to put fear in Hindu followers to the “gods who control their lives,” according to the petition.”

It turns out that about 12 people showed up to a protest on June 10th in downtown…and there were people protesting the protest (thus representing freedom of religion, and freedom of artistic expression) as well.

You know, 12 people is not very many for what is considered to be a fairly conservative part of the world.  In fact, that is a turnout barely worth reporting!  I spent a fair amount of time reading blog posts and commentaries added to the news articles reporting this protest, and most of them expressed astonishment at the Constitutional Party’s statement.  The statement actually seemed to provoke a flood of comments that show an encouraging level of tolerance.  People stated repeatedly that Christian symbolism was widespread in public art, and that there is plenty of room for other traditions.  They pointed out the inaccuracy of Ganesha being called a “demon” and provided more information about his story and history.  Numerous commentators stated that they thought the piece was ugly, but that it had every right to be there.  The overwhelming vibe of the comments was along the lines of, “hey, this is art, people can express what they want.”  One of the commissioners of the ArtCurrents project (via KXLY –TV in Coeur d’Alene) summed it up well:

“Art is a kind of freedom of expression and one of our rights and everybody’s taste are different. I guess that’s what makes art controversial.” (Steve Anthony)

And the incredible thing is that, yes, the Constitutional Party’s opinion on this art piece is a form of expression and a right as well.  While I don’t agree with the grounds of their objection, they do have the right to object in print and protest in person.  And by doing so, they prompted a good discussion that has for me, increased my respect for the residents of this area.

That’s what it is all about, after all.  Conversation.  Expression.  Understanding that leads to tolerance and co-existence – in Idaho and everywhere else.  This gives me hope that we’re all heading there.

Oh, and I can’t resist copying in my favorite of the comments, from the Coeur d’Alene Press Article again:

“Elephants have trunks in the middle of their faces, not penises,” Linda Hess, religious studies senior lecturer at Stanford University, in Palo Alto, Calif., wrote The Press. “Sometimes people attribute phallic meaning to snakes, cigars, microphones, the Eiffel Tower, and, yes, elephant trunks. Discussions of phallic symbolism can be intelligent and interesting, or not. I suggest that the people of Coeur d’Alene see Ganesha’s trunk as an elephant trunk.”

Hee hee.

Go Idaho, Go Ganesha – Remover of Obstacles!

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~ by bridgetannlyons on July 29, 2011.

One Response to “Ganesha in Northern Idaho”

  1. What’s up friends, fastidious piece of writing and fastidious arguments commented here, I am genuinely enjoying by these.

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