Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"The Last Conquistador"

Below are some photos of "The Equestrian" by sculpture John Houser. Following the PBS Point of View's "The Last Conquistador" program which aired Tuesday evening on the controversy surrounding the world's largest equestrian sculpture in the world, I found myself at the foot of this enormous art piece after taking neighbor's to the airport to catch a flight just after dawn.

Photos by Dada, sculpture by John Houser
(Click to enlarge.)
In the mid '90s, sculptor John Houser and I had a five word conversation. (His gigantic equestrian was just an idea conceived as a tribute to controversial conquistador "Don Juan de Onate.")

The occasion was a reception at an art exhibit here in El Paso. Standing in front of my painting I'd entered in the exhibition, Houser asked: "Did you under paint it?"

"No." was my response.

I believe most things happen by chance. But sometimes I suspect there's more than mere coincidence in play. Like being at the base of Houser's sculpture this morning following last night's PBS program. Gazing up at the incredible detail, I was wishing my conversation with Houser had been more than just five words.


eProf2 said...

"Willful blindness!" Valadez the film producer for POV said it extremely well. Houser knew the history, he just didn't want to acknowledge it before he started HIS project. By not confronting his knowledge of Onate, it blew up in his face when Native American people acted on their historical perspective. Two more things: Money talks; and, I kept thinking the statue sure looks like Houser himself. I didn't feel any sympathy for Houser, especially after it was revealed that Onate was convicted in a Mexico City court for conduct beyond the pale of his authority -- committing genocide. How could El Paso not only misspend big bucks on the statue but honor a war criminal? The real tragedy will come in time as people won't look into the history of the man depicted but only see this "wonderful piece of art." Ughhhh! Thanks for sending me to POV each week. Great documentaries.

John S. Houser said...

Dear Dada,

My son alerted me to your blog, which has brought me to reply. Thanks for the pix and the comments. I wish we had had a longer conversation as well. Perhaps we will...

The monument has provoked a great deal of superficial and self righteous condemnation. Misstatements of fact were allowed to pass in the film without rebuttal and supporters of the XII Travelers Memorial were never allowed to respond. The film was designed to create maximum controversy by presenting only one single "Point of View", despite their statements to the contrary.

As for "willful blindness," most people see only what they want to see. I invite those who wish to clarify their vision regarding this monument and the XII Travelers project to investigate John Sherrill Houser, Wikipedia and XII

Too many rush into a debate half-cocked, armed only with emotion and ignorance...something Aristotle would never have done.

John Houser, sculptor

eProf2 said...

Using the same source, Wikipedia, I invite the sculpter to read the entry on Onate, which I'm sure Aristotle did before commenting. Almost every entry on every web site describes Onate as a cruel and violent leader to both his own men and to native peoples. The Acoma people lost 800 killed, dozens of men over 25 lost their left foot, and children were removed from their mothers to be "christianized" and live in other pueblos. Onate was even recalled by the King of Spain to answer for his actions, for which he was convicted and exiled from the new world. Aristotle being familiar with other conquistadores in New Spain couldn't find one who was more cruel and more violent than Onate. And, none has a statue in their honor like Onate's. Emotional, perhaps. Realistic in historical perspective, si.

Steve said...

I didn't see the entire POV but felt little sympathy for Houser and found his eventual contrition/remorse (after initial self-righteousness) was of questionable sincerity. Did he feel badly for those he offended or for himself?

He had to have known the history of Onate; I understand the paper in the statue's hand was the order giving him carte blanche to conquer as he saw fit. Surely Houser was aware of the purpose of the paper when he designed the sculpture, and of Onate's brutal, genocidal crimes. His defense of art rang hollow to me, though I don't know enough to say if his motivation for the project went beyond self-aggrandizement.

I'm supportive of artistic expression, but not at the expense of reopening old wounds that have afflicted native peoples of the Southwest for 500 years.