This sculpture by Gary Lee Price was a part of last year’s special sculpture display at the Naples Botanical Garden and I was so excited to see it is still on display. I made several attempts to photograph its spirit last year – but deleted most of the photos. On this visit, clouds blew in as I was finishing my photography walk-about so I had ideal conditions for another try. All my previous attempts on sunny days (Florida isn’t named the Sunshine State by accident) resulted in too many highlights that Lightroom couldn’t correct enough.
With the currant administration’s nasty rhetoric about how dangerous immigrants are, especially those seeking asylum, this sculpture holds special meaning for me. See that spot on the bottom left where I joined in the circle – leaving enough space for you to join me.
This sculpture touches my soul and represents so many of the values I have chosen to believe in and build my life upon.
I remember when I first experienced someone who was poor face-to-face instead of just hearing about “the poor.” I was in second grade and we were instructed to get in a circle and hold hands. The girl that was next to me, the one I would need to hold hands with, was someone who I had been only vaguely aware of – she was always on the fringes of our class. This wasn’t a “hoity-toity” private school, just a neighborhood school in a working class neighborhood but she was different somehow, maybe her clothes were a little more warn than everyone else’s or her hair never looked clean. I had to take her hand and somewhere within me I was uncomfortable even though I had never thought about her nor understood why she seemed different. Then I took her hand. Her hand was uncomfortable in my hand and I felt repulsion. Her hand was horribly dry and crusty. And in that instant I knew very deeply in my mind and heart what poor was. Poor is being different, poor is being on the margins because poor is not having enough basic needs to be able to put a decent hand forward. Poor is suffering. That was almost 70 years ago and today I am weeping because of her exclusion from our class and because she probably never had access to the simple rights and privileges I would experience.
“I hope I can assist the world in visualizing a place where fences and boundaries, both real and imagined, are non-existent; a place where bias and prejudice are long forgotten; and finally, a place where acts of kindness, mutual respect, and love are everyday happenings.” – Gary Lee Price (obtained from his website)
I believe that this statement comes from Price’s very soul because it would be impossible to sculpt these figures to depict his message, his goal, without believing in it with all of his mind and heart. His written beliefs shine so brightly through this sculpture that they have lit my soul.
The artist has maintained the integrity of each animal’s body but in fantasy has illuminated each creatures’ personality. The penguin has a crown and the elephant has a necklace. The fantasy within the sculpture is the depiction of human experience in these animals joined together, this circle of friends. It expresses joy and laughter and movement, the love and respect within relationship, the display of inclusion in spite of differences.
I think I almost captured the energy this sculpture emits – the movement that can be felt. I think that when we are in troubled times, like the people of all nations and continents are currently experiencing, it is difficult to see how we will work our way out to better times. We can become de-moralized, feel helpless and incapable of making our world a better place. But we can do it, you and I.
We can embrace and shake the dry, cracked and dirty hand of a person we meet and offer some help while respecting the dignity of the person-hood we see in their eyes. Maybe instead of looking at and seeing difference in skin color, hair texture, or clothing styles we can share a space with them, looking for ways to work together, respecting all contributions. Maybe instead of hearing and being frustrated with a difficult to understand accent, we can work to find ways to listen to what is being communicated so we can find commonalities and relationship for a better outcome for all. We can admire them for being smart enough to be bilingual.
Most important, we in the U.S. can be thinking about the election coming up in less than two years. We need to get beyond the noise of empty promises and lies to understanding the candidate’s values. Do they recognize income inequality and have ideas about how to bring about wages that allow all people who work to be able to support their families without living below the poverty line? What do candidates believe are human rights – adequate education to give all people skills to earn a living and critical thinking ability to participate in our democratic system, basic health care for everyone, adequate housing, healthy food, access to infrastructure? Do they believe children should be protected and taken care of – even Black or Jewish or Muslim or Hispanic? Do they embrace “other” and “different” so that social values can continue to change to make room for people who aren’t just like us? What do they believe about our place in the world? Do they believe we should fight only for our interests or do they believe all people should have a share of the world’s resources? Does the candidate recognize the complexity of international relationships and articulate a way of relating to foreign leaders that is respectful of our rights and the rights of the people of foreign countries?
Different does not mean the same as bad, illegal, immoral, or dangerous. My challenge for the coming year is to find ways to respect different while fighting against actions that are really bad, illegal, immoral and dangerous. I need to clarify my values and work to understand whether proposed national policy is consistent with what I believe. I need to continue working to do what I can to make life better for those individual who have been denied basic needs because of their differences and political greed. And of course there is room for you to join me in creating millions of concentric and overlapping Circle(s) of Friends.
Let’s join hands.